The Conquest of Egypt

The frequent incursions into Syria from the Egyptian side and the harassment to which the sea-board was subjected by the Romans , led the Caliph , after some hesitation , to authorize an expedition into the land of the Pharaohs . Amr Ibn Al-Aas started with only 4 , 000 men . The success of Amr was due to the bad condition of Egypt in the last part of the Roman reign: such was their oppression in collecting the various taxes that the people were groaning and craving for a better life in the change of rules . The taxes levied numbered more than twenty , the heaviest of which were the wheat tax , the capitation and the land tax . What made matters worse were the religious disputes accompanied by persecution , all of which caused the ruination of the country . There was a bitter hostility between the national Monophysite of "Jacobite" , and the official "Chalcedonian" (which the curators of Constantinople supported in Egypt) . Cruelly persecuted , the Jacobites looked forward to a change that was to bestow tolerance upon them . Moreover , the standing army was powerless against any foreign invasion . And these conditions combined made the Egyptians welcome the new conquerors .
On crossing the eastern frontiers of Egypt , Amr with his 4 , 000-men-army , almost all horsemen , armed with lances , swords and bows , marched along the caravan route along the coast of Sinai facing no difficulty . The first opposition the Arabs met was at Pelusuim (el Farma) where the Roman garrison held out for a month . Again , Amr besieged Belbeis (some thirty miles from Misr) for a month before it surrendered . On his way to the fortress of Babylon , he defeated scanty grouping of the Romans and the rest retreated to a fortress where they could defend themselves for some time . This ancient castle still stands (at least in part) and is known as Kasr-esh-Shema . It was built by Trajan on the site of a Persian fort , and had been fortified by the Romans not long before the Arab invasion .
Before approaching the castle , Amr occupied "Umm Duneyn" (Ezbekiya) , a village lying a little to the north of the fortress . Its possession gave him the command of plenty of boats , and he sent bands of his Arabs up the river to invade the Faiyum Oasis and other parts of Upper Egypt . The Arabs counted on the aid of at least the neutrality of the native Copts , of whose hostility to the Romans Amr had become well
aware during his earliest visit to Egypt .
About the middle of June 640 , a big reinforcement of 12 , 000 men under Ez-Zubair Ibn El Awwam , accompanied by several of the companions of the Prophet was sent at Amr's request . He had taken up a position at Heliopolis (on , Ain-Shams) , some miles to the north of Babylon . In July 640 , the Romans were routed with much slaughter at Heliopolis and fled to Babylon .
The Arabs besieged the fortress for eight months and its garrison at last capitulated on April 641 .
Before the battle of Heliopolis , El Mukawkis "Cyrus" (the governor of Egypt and the powerful patriarch of Alexandria) , accompanied by others , opened negotiations with the Arabs with a view to peace . The Arabs offered: conversion to Islam , or the payment of a poll-tax , or war to the knife . The negotiators were willing to submit to the poll-tax , but the Roman garrison utterly refused . When the garrison found the situation critical , they renewed the negotiation and submitted to the poll-tax , provided that the fortress should be left in their hands until Heraclius gave his final decision . Heraclius utterly repudiated this agreement , summoned Cyrus to Constantinople to account for his conduct
, and reproached and disgraced him Heraclius' death precluded any hope of relief from Constantinople . Accordingly , the weary garrison of Babylon submitted in April 641 . When the fortress of Babylon was taken , the Arab general marched north towards Alexandria along the Rosetta branch and defeated all the Roman troops he met on his way . On reaching Alexandria , he besieged it then left an army surrounding it and went with his troops to conquer other parts . He passed through Sakha and Athreeb in the Delta and continued his march in Upper Egypt as far as Thebes . He then came back to Babylon where he found Cyrus had returned armed with full powers to conclude a treaty which was finally signed in November 641 , the chief articles of which were:
1) Those who held their own creed were to pay the poll-tax .
2) It was agreed that the Alexandrians should pay a monthly tribute , and deliver up 150 soldiers and 50 civilians as hostages .
3) The Muslims should not interfere with the churches and affairs of the Christians .
5) The Muslims should hold aloof from Alexandria for 11 months during which the Roman army would leave the city and embark . And they embarked in September 642 .
The Arabs took another year to complete their conquest since they met serious resistance in some towns and provinces . Amr extended his conquest to Libya , because it had been ceded to Egypt during the last period of the Byzantine rule . So , he marched on and captured Cyranaica and Tripoli . His soldiers went southward to the northern frontiers of the Sudan .
The whole of Egypt , up to the borders of the Sudan on the south and Libya on the west , became subject to Muslim domination . Measures were taken to improve the conditions of the peasantry . The land was left in the hands of the cultivators; the old irrigation works were restored and the ancient canal connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea was cleared out . The Egyptian Christians (who are called the Copts) were treated with marked favor in consequence of their good will towards the Muslims . Taxation was regulated upon a fixed and moderate scale , and trade was fostered by light customs dues .


A drawing of the Pharonic Scorpion King, on display at the Agriculture Museum



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