dynasty began to weaken after Kafur's
death. This incited the Fatimids to invade Egypt. Fatimids claim
their descent from Prophet Mohamed through his daughter, Fatima.
The Fatimids followed the Shi'ite
belief in 909 in present-day Tunisia.
In 968 under the caliphate
of Al-Muezz, A Fatimid army headed by General Gawhar Al-Sekelli (the
Sicilian) commanded the invasion of Egypt.
Lustre painted vessel
with a human figure|
dates back to the 11th AD
Photo by Raymon Kondos ©
Symbolizing the change of the rule, Gawhar managed to build a new
capital called "Al-Qahera," after planet "mars."
The name also means "vanquisher" in Arabic language. It
was corrupted by European merchants to the name "Cairo,"
the same capital of our present-day.
In 970, the Fatimids built the great mosque of Al-Azhar,
which is also named after the Prophet's daughter, Fatima Al-Zahra'.
Fatimids gained control, in short time, over holy cities of Mecca
and Medina. They also annexed Palestine but had to confront the
Byzantine forces there.
Realizing the strategic importance of Egypt, the Fatimid caliph
decided to shift the caliphate seat from Tunisia to the new Arab capital
The Fatimids were not concerned with converting the population to
the Shi'ite sect. They were also tolerant enough to employ Sunnis,
Christians and Jews in the government.
In 975 Al-Muezz died and was succeeded by Al-Aziz Billah.
Al-Aziz's rule was characterized by an excellent administration that
ran Egypt so effectively. This gave him a good opportunity to prosper
Cairo with foundations, thanks to his witted vizier,
The kingdom continued despite the existence of other strong rival
To strengthen the army, the Fatimids continued to import Turkish
and Sudanese mercenaries.
Al-Aziz died in 996 AD and was succeeded by his
11-year old son, Al-Hakim.
The large mosque
Al-Hakim in Cairo
Photo by Gamil Mahmoud ©
Al-Hakim was an enigma. He had an extraordinary eccentric character.
He was renown by issuance of very strange laws. He had all dogs
of Cairo killed in 1004.
He had a special passion to the dark so he ordered shops to open
at night and close in daylight. Al-Hakim also forbade the selling
of grapes, wine, beer, meloukhia (Jew's mallow) and even ordered
the pouring of honey in the Nile.
For some reason, he disliked women and consequently barred them
from being seen in public and forbade shoemakers from making them
Despite these all, Al-Hakim had positive sides. In 1005, he founded
The Wisdom House (Beit
Al-Hekma), as a center for learning science and theology. The center
expanded and became a good place for scholars to meet and discuss
In his reign, a peace treaty was also forged with the Byzantine
Empire in 1001 AD. He also managed to survive a severe famine
that hit Egypt in 1007 AD.
In 1017 AD, a vizier of Al-Hakim called Darazi claimed that Al-Hakim
is an incarnation of God. To Egyptians, that was the last straw. They
were shocked by the theory and started to make fun of their sort-of-a-mad
The dispute between Al-Hakim and the populaces resulted in a breakout
of a rebellion in 1020. As a result, Al-Hakim sent black troops to
put down the unrest and to even burn the city of Al-Fustat.
In 1021, Al-Hakim, who used to wander alone on his donkey in the Muqattam
hills, disappeared during one of his rides. His body was never found
and he is presumed to have been murdered by his sister, Set El-Molk,
and other conspirators.
Al-Hakim's sister, Set El-Molk, ruled as a regent to the heir, Al-Zaher,
Hakim's son. Following her death, a number of viziers served the caliph
but in fact enjoyed a great deal of power.
Wood artwork dates back
to the Fatimid era
Photo by Raymon
In 1036, Al-Mustansir, Al-Zaher's son, became the new caliph. He
ruled for 58 years.
In the beginning of his rule, Egypt enjoyed relative prosperity
because of Al-Mustansir's initial strength.
Egypt began to impoverish when a famines and plagues hit Egypt for
7 years because of low Nile levels. As the situation became worse,
cannibalism became so much common.
The Fatimids began to lose their territories due to the internal crisis.
Furthermore, a severe power struggle took place between the Turkish
and Sudanese regiments of the army. Turkish troops plundered the treasury
and the caliph's huge library of 100'000 books was dispersed.
In an attempt to restore order, the caliph sent for Badr
El-Gamali, a Fatimid ruler of Acre in Palestine to come to Cairo.
Upon his arrive in 1074, Badr Al-Gamali aggressively crushed the
army dissidents. He then united Egypt successfully under his control.
After cleaning up the state, Egypt began to prosper again. Badr
called for his architects and builders to thicken the walls of Cairo
and build new gates, like Bab
El-Fetouh, Bab El-Nasr and Bab
Zuweila. Many of these constructions are still visible in Cairo
In 1094, both the caliph and his able general died. Following their
death, six Fatimid caliphs ruled to the end of the dynasty in 1171
Their rule was characterized by power struggles with viziers. The
weak caliphs allowed many of the court members to control the government.
The vacuum in the reign facilitated victories of the first crusade
in 1099 that targeted the Holy Land in Palestine. Crusaders seized
Jerusalem and continued to expand their empire and in 1118 they
launched their first unsuccessful attack on Egypt.
Rival viziers continued their struggle acquiring the authority,
though knowing the coming danger of the crusaders.
At the end of the Fatimid rule, a vizier called Shawar, sought help
from ruler of Damascus, Nour El-Din, in order to regain the reign
after being displaced by a rival. The Damascus ruler sent several
campaigns headed by commander Sherkouh. Eventually, Shawar succeeded
to seize back his seat but when he turned against Damascus, he began
to contact the crusaders in Jerusalem seeking help from them.
Sherkouh, who became an enemy to Shawar, launched a successful campaign
in 1169 ousting Shawar and placing himself in rule only short time
before his own death in the same year.
Marble tombstone dated
1021 AD reused in 1168
for another deseased
Photo by Raymon Kondos ©
The Fatimid caliph appointed Salah
El-Din Al-Ayyubi, who was a general from Damascus and Sherkouh's
nephew, as his vizier.
Salah El-Din was
a Sunni Moslem so he began founding schools to teach the Sunni doctrine
to Egyptians. The pace was welcomed of Moslem Egyptians because
the majority of them remained Sunnis during the reign of Fatimids.
Salah El-Din, known as Saladin to the West, went far beyond this
by dropping the name of the caliph from mosque prayers. The caliph
was too weak and ill to realize what was happening as Saladin was
actually deposing him.
In 1171, the last Fatimid caliph died, ending the only Shi'ite dynasty
that ever ruled Egypt.