The word 'Fatimid' was derived from the name of the daughter of Prophet Mohammad (Pbuh). She married Ali Ibn Taleb, who was the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law. According to the Shiites principle, the Caliph should be one from the family of the Prophet and the sons of Ali. The leaders of Shiites escaped from the Ommeyade and later from the Abbassid persecution and went to Barbary, where they were welcomed by the Kitama Tribe. Barbary had not any connection with the Caliphate, but this province was under the Aghlabid Dynasty and the Alides joined to Idrisid Dynasty. Then, Abdullah El-Shi' I, the new leader of the Shiites succeeded in preparing an army of 200,0000 men and went to Barbary. After several battles, he completely defeated the Aghlabid prince and the Aghlabid Dynasty came to an end. Abdullah El-Shi'I declared "Obeydallah el-Mahdi the Caliph and Chief of Islam."
He was the founder of the Fatimid Dynasty. He succeeded to kill Abdullah El-Shi'I and ruled for about 25 years. He established many cities between Egypt and Morocco and the people were very loyal to him, especially, the governor of Moharaedan. He sent two futile campaigns to Egypt headed by his oldest son in order to invade it.
Al Qaim began his reign with a war. He sent a fleet to France and surrounded its southern coast, then, destroyed and burnt the French fleet. At the same time, he sent a fleet to invade Egypt, but Ikhshid (the governor of Egypt) defeated him. During the last years of his reign, a civil war broke out and lasted for 7 years until the reign of the third Caliph, El Mansur. We know very little about El Mansur, but it was said that he was a very wise man.
Reign of El Muiz Le Din Allah El Fatemy
The fourth Caliph, Al-Muizz Lideenillah Al-Fatimy was a generous, brave and strict Muslim. Besides being well-educated, he knew many languages and was a poet. He sent his vizier, Gawhar El-Siqilli (The Sicilian) to Morocco to put down the revolts against him and he succeeded in controlling the African Coast. At this time, Egypt was in a very bad condition, because, during the last years of Ikhshid Dynasty, a weak child ruler, called Ibn Furai, became the governor of Egypt. People hated him and the soldiers revolted. Moreover, a famine happened because of the low level of the Nile leaving of 60,000 people dead. Therefore, Gawhar El-Siqilli with 10,000 men went to Egypt and captured Alexandria, then El-Fustat and, finally, the Fatimid army entered the capital, AL-Askar.
Gawhar immediately began to found a new fortified capital, called Al-Kahira. The New city was built around two royal palaces and a mosque called Al-Azhar. Through sending corn and wheat by ships from Al-Maghrib to Egypt, Al-Muizz managed to end the famine. Further, he reduced taxes and established a center to exchange the wheat forcing everyone to sell it under the supervision of El-Muhtasib (The chief of the financial department). He improved the agriculture and the irrigation system by digging new canals and repairing the old ones. Also, Al-Muizz organized the departments and appointed an Egyptian and Maghrebi officers to each department and restored justice. He also looked after the Copts by appointing one of them to be the head of the customs in Egypt and Palestine. Among his other achievements, Al-Muizz built a big fleet, improved the level of the army and could capture Southern Syria, Hijaz, Mecca and El Medina.
The King of Nubia paid him tribute. At the end of his reign, the Karmatis القرامطة invaded Egypt and defeated Al-Muizz's army, so he bribed the chief of Banu Tayy, who was the close friend of the Karmatis by 10,000 false dinars. Thus, the Karmatis' army escaped to Syria.
Reign of El Aziz Ibn El Muiz
During the reign of El-Aziz, Egypt enjoyed peace and prosperity. The Copts enjoyed wide freedom, and they were permitted to rebuild the damaged Church of Abu Seyfeyn.He dug many canals, built bridges and began to build the mosque, which carried the name of El Hakim, who succeeded El Aziz and completed the mosque.
Reign of El Hakim Ibn El Aziz
El Hakim was the only son of El Aziz by a Christian mother. He was about 11 years old when his father died, so he was put under the regency of a man called Bargawan. Bargawan spent on his time with the singers, listening to music. Therefore, he lost the control on the country and, finally, he was killed by El Hakim, who became the sole ruler of Egypt at the age of 15. El-Hakim is famous for his peculiarity, as he was behaving in a very strange and unused way and his acts were contradictory. He loved darkness, night and he used to hold his meetings at night. Moreover, he ordered that all shops should be opened at night and should be closed by day.
In his time, women were not allowed to leave their homes. Moreover, the shoemakers were not allowed to make boots for women and he ordered that all women must not enter public baths. Beer, wine and vine were forbidden; moreover, people were forbidden from eating Molukhiya (Jew's mallow) and marrow. Honey was poured into the Nile. Games such as chess were forbidden, and he treated the Jews and Christians very badly: their churches were destroyed and their lands usurped. He offered the Christians three choices: convert to Islam, leave the country or wear a heavy cross, so many Copts accepted to escape from persecution. Later on, he changed his behavior towards Copts and allowing them to rebuild their churches. He ill-treated the Sunnis, changed the time of the prayers and cancelled the pilgrimage and Kharaj, but once again he changed his behavior and treated the Sunnis in a good way. Sometimes he liked to gaze at the stars counting them and, although he hated the astronomers and prevented them from work. El-Hakim imagined himself as "the image of the God" and he forced people to worship his name.
His sister had frequently warned, but he did not listen to her. So, she plotted against him. When he was alone in the desert, after some days his donkey was found burned and El-Hakim's body was never discovered. He built the Mosque, which still carries his name, situated close to Bab-el-Nasr. He also built Hall of Science, known as "Dar El-Hikma" or "Dar El-Ilm". It was built to teach the religious affairs of Shi'a as well as astronomy, grammar, poetry, law, medicine, etc. Also, he established a library inside Dar El-Hikma in order to supply all learners with books. Also, he built an observatory on the Mokattam Hills.
El Zaher ibn El Hakim
El Zaher ibn El Hakim was the only son of El-Hakim. He was about 16 years old when his father was killed; therefore, he was put under the regency of his aunt, Sayyedat El-Mulk. After the death of his aunt, the government fell in the hands of some very bad high officials, who encouraged the young Caliph to be lazy and careless. The level of the Nile decreased; the prices of the products became very high, and the common meat came unavailable; thus, many people died because of the lack of food. The treasury became empty and the royal palace itself suffered from the lack of food and, therefore, a famine happened during his reign. But, this famine decreased by the increasing of the Nile level.
Reign of El Mustansir ibn El-Zaher
El Mustansir was the son of El-Zaher ibn El-Hakim , he was about 7 years old when he ascended the throne and he was the Muslim ruler whose reign extended over the longest period. He left the viziers to rule the country and to run its affairs. The most important vizier was El-Yazuri, who improved the conditions of the farmers, organized the process of selling and buying crops, put fixed and low prices for the crops and built large stores of corn at Fustat to reduce the effects of famine. El-Zaher was interested in Art and Science. After his death, the country went from bad to worse. 40 ministers ruled the country in 9 years. Turkish and Sudanese soldiers fought against each other. The Nile flood was low for 7 years and a big famine happened and the people ate horses and donkeys.
Finally, people began to eat each others and the dangerous diseases (especially plague) began to kill them all. Turks took the palace from El-Mustansir and destroyed the Caliph's library, which contained more than 100,000 books. At the end, the Caliph asked the help of the governor of Akka and appointed him vizier. The Fatimid Dynasty came to its end. was the only son of El-Hakim. He was about 16 years old when his father was killed; therefore, he was put under the regency of his aunt, Sayyedat El-Mulk. After the death of his aunt, the government fell in the hands of some very bad high officials, who encouraged the young Caliph to be lazy and careless. The level of the Nile decreased; the prices of the products became very high, and the common meat came unavailable; thus, many people died because of the lack of food. The treasury became empty and the royal palace itself suffered from the lack of food and, therefore, a famine happened during his reign. But, this famine decreased by the increasing of the Nile level.
Badr El- Gamali
El- Gamali was an Armenian slave. He joined to the army of Syria and he became famous, during the Syrian wars, until he became the most powerful general in Syria. El- Gamali accepted the offer El-Mustansir, the Caliph who invited him to come to Egypt conditioning that Badr would bring with him the Syrian troops. When he entered Cairo, he put each Turkish general at the service of a Syrian officer. Then, he restored law and order in the capital. Then, he defeated the Berbers in the Delta, invaded Alexandria, defeated the Sudanese soldiers and restored the authority of the Caliph till Aswan. He built a brick wall around Cairo with three stone gates: Bab el-Nasr; Bab el-Futuh and Bab Zuweyla (which still stands). During his reign, farmers enjoyed security, prosperity and justice and the rest 20 years of Al-Mustansir's reign were peaceful and stable. After his death, he was followed by his son, El-Afdal Shahanshah.
Resembling his father's strength, Shahanshah also followed his policy. During his time, the Crusaders began to occupy the East and they invaded Jerusalem. Then, they invaded greater part of Palestine and Syria. Therefore, El-Afdal concentrated his efforts on securing the borders of Egypt, but, suddenly, the Caliph killed him.
Talai Ibn Ruzziq
After the killing of Al-Afdal, Egypt lived in chaos, until Talai Ibn Ruzziq came to Egypt. He was the governor of Ushmuneyn and he became a vizier, during the reign of El-Malik El-Saleh. He restored law and order, punished any guilty and executed the generals who were unjust. After his death, he was succeeded by his son, El Adel, but the governor of Upper Egypt sacked and executed him. At that time, Egypt was threatened by the invasion of the Crusaders.
Egypt conditions under the Fatimid Caliphate
When El-Muizz came to Egypt, he made it the capital of the Caliphate. Then, he extended his authority to Syria, Hijaz and Yemen on the East, while the Fatimid authority extended to the Atlantic Ocean on the West. Egypt was separated from Baghdad, which was the capital during the Abbassid Dynasty. The weakness of the Abbassid Dynasty led to the foundation of the great Fatimid Dynasty. Moreover, the Alides helped the Fatimids in getting rid of the Abbasids and they made good relations with the former in order to participate in their government.
Egypt was divided into 4 divisions: Upper Egypt, Sharkia, Gharbia and Alexandria. Each division was divided into villages and districts. There were one local government, whom responsibility was for local works and buildings (such as bridges) and two central governments responsible for digging the canals. The Official Ministers: They were divided into 3 parts: (1) Men of sword, supervising the army. They included: I- The viziers II- The High Official III-The Field Marshal who commanded the army and was responsible for the protection of the palace IV-The Umbrella Bearer V-The Chief of Cairo VI -The Chief of Misr, Fustat,... etc. (2) The men of the pen, who consisted of 7 parts: I- The Vizier II- The Chief Kadi who was the head of the law III- The Chief preacher IV- The Inspector of Markets (Muhtasib) V- The Treasurer, who was the Chief of the Treasury VI- The representative of the high official VII- Koran Reader (3) The Division of the Diwan: I- The Vizierate II- Chancery the High Court III- The Army Payment Office IV- The Treasury, which was divided into 14 departments to deal with every branch of the finance, accounts, presents, royal factories, .... etc.
During the Fatimid Period, Egypt had a strong army and the largest fleet since the Arab conquest. The Fatimid army was divided into 3 parts: A- The Emirs, including: I- Gold Series: emirs of the highest class. II- Sword Bearers, who accompanied the Caliph. B- The Officers of the Guard, including: I- The Masters who were given high and important positions II- The Young Guard; III- The troops of the Caliph's camps. c- The Regiments (the military divisions): Each military group or division was given its name according to its Caliph, vizier and its people (such as the Turks' regimen, the Roman, .. etc). El Muizz built a port of Maks, known as Bulak. Also, he built 600 ships and the fleet of Egypt became the largest one that had ever existed since the Arab conquest. There were many sites, in which the fleet was put (such as at Alexandria, Damietta, Akka, Haifa and other Syrian ports). This fleet was under a high admiral.
The population of Egypt was divided into several groups: A- The original inhabitants of Egypt B- The Berbers C- The Turks who increased since the Tulunid Dynasty. D- The Sudanese who increased since the reign of Kafur and El Mustansir, whose mother was Sudanese. E- The Armenians who increased since the time of Badr el-Gamali, who was once an Armenian slave. The Shi'a Creed At the beginning of the Fatimid Reign, the Egyptians were Sunnis, so the Fatimids did not exert any effort in spreading the Shi'a Creed. Then, the Caliph, El-Aziz, ordered the following: A-The first three Orthodox Caliphs (namely Abu Baker, Omar and Osman) should be cursed on the pulpits of the mosques. B-All the high jobs were given to the Shiites employees. C-The orators should wear white robes instead of black robes, which was the emblem of the Abbassids.
The Zimmis: The Fatimids were tolerant with both the Christians and Jews. El-Aziz married a Christian lady and appointed her brother, Melekhite, Patriarch of Alexandria and Jerusalem, while her second brother, Isa Ibn Nestorius, his vizier. As for El-Hakim, he was a very strange man. At first, he persecuted the Christians, destroyed their churches, took their lands and cancelled their feasts. Later on, he allowed them to re-build their churches and to celebrate their feasts. Feasts and Celebrations: The Fatimids had many feasts such as: The Bairam (عيد الإفطار), Feast of Sacrifice (عيد الأضحى), the Anniversary of the Prophet, the Nights of Ramadan, the Birthday of the Caliph, the First of Ragab and Sha'ban, and The Mid-Ragab and Sha'ban. Also, they shared the Christians in their feasts (such as the Epiphany). There were also national feasts such as "Cutting of the Cairo Khalig or Canal", 'Ashoura', and day of El-Hussein's murder (which was a day of mourning and a public holiday).
When Gawhar entered Egypt, he founded a new city on the road to Heliopolis to be the center of the Shi'a Creed and to be a fortified place against the enemies of Egypt, who were the Karmatic troops. He did not like to use Fustat or Askar as his capital, because they were full of Sunnis. Gawhar built a big royal castle to be used by the Caliph, his Harim, his guard, his chosen soldiers and his government officers and built 50,000 brick houses with gardens and 20,000 shops. Gawhar, also, built a brick wall around Cairo to fortify it. Remarkably, the buildings, mosques and ruins of the Fatimids still fill the city.
El-Muizz and El-Aziz were interested in developing agriculture: they dug canals and built bridges until the agriculture land reached 285,000 acres. Also, they organized the taxes and cancelled the heavy ones. However, from the second half of the Fatimid Dynasty, the Caliphs were very weak (namely El-Zaher and El-Mustansir). They neglected the canals, and agriculture in general, collected heavy taxes and there was no security. All these factors, in addition to the low level of the Nile, led to the famine that happened during the reign of El-Mustansir.
During the Fatimid Dynasty, Egypt was the most important industrial center because its markets were full of the Egyptian products. Egypt was famous for its looms. Alexandria and Cairo were famous for making fine silk; Asyut for its woolen turbans; and Behnessa for its white woolen. Jewelry, ivory boxes, crystal vases, pottery, metal and glass were made in a finely perfect way.
The goods were carried from "the Canal of the Commander of the Faithful to Kulzum, to the Red Sea, then to the East. This route continued to be used until the reign of Mustansir. When Syria was threatened by foreign invasion, the trade route changed to Aydahb. Therefore, the traders used the ships of the Nile as a means of transportation to Qoos, then to Aydahb by camels. Goods came from all ports of Upper Egypt to Cairo, Rosetta branch Atf, to Alexandria by camels, then to Europe by boats. Egypt, also, had a trade fleet for carrying goods to Sicily (Italy), Barbary and Syria.