The conquest of Syria by the Turks, then by the Crusaders, had reduced the Fatimid dynasty to the possession of Egypt alone. Between 1163 and 1169 the Franks and the Ayyubids fought over the country ; the latter had the upper hand and their leader, Saladin, deposed the caliph who had named him his vizier in 1171, keeping for himself the title of sultan. He eliminated the Fatimid partisans and the Shiite party in the name of the Abbasid caliph. His conquests made him master of Damascus, Aleppo, Yemen and finally Jerusalem, but the third crusade put a stop to its expansion. In Egypt Saladin built the fortress of Cairo ; he recalled Turks and Kurds to build his army, reducing the Arab contingent; he also tried to remove Christians from his administration, but without too much success. To the military leaders he conferred, by way of iqṭā ῾, endowments on the income of the state. He worked to strengthen his control over Sinai, a place of passage between Egypt, Syria and the holy places of Islam, first fighting against Rinaldo of Châtillon, then with the construction of fortresses and the subjugation of the Bedouins, ensuring thus the vital communications between the different parts of his empire.
On his death (March 3, 1193) he left his territories to his children and Egypt belonged to the eldest, al-Aziz; but the disputes between his descendants gave his uncle al-Malik al-῾Ādil, who had ruled Egypt on behalf of Saladin, the opportunity to become sultan in 1200. He too was forced to divide a territory among his sons. which extended to Upper Mesopotamia, the dynasty’s country of origin. He also had to face the crusaders of Henry VI and Andrew of Hungary, but above all the armies of the Fifth Crusade which landed in Damietta in 1218. His son al-Malik al-Kāmil he succeeded him in that same year and managed to recover Damietta. He soon established relations with Frederick II, who had already sent the bishop of Cefalù to Cairo in 1215 to renew ancient treaties. This time al-Kāmil sought the support of the emperor against the aims of his brother, the sultan of Damascus, who aspired to take over Egypt. His envoy, Emir Fakhr al-Dīn, won the favor of Frederick II, who perhaps made him a knight and allowed him to carry his weapons. Al-Kāmil seems to have offered the emperor, in return for his help, the return of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, no doubt amputated of the squares beyond the Jordan which represented a nerve center of the Ayyubid Empire; but having occurred the death of the sultan of Damascus, the alliance with Frederick II had lost importance. Hence the treaty of Jaffa (11 February 1229) he left to the emperor only the Holy Places of the Christians and the respective access roads. However, relations between Frederick and al-Kāmil remained cordial and the embassies followed one another. The emperor also ratified the treaty stipulated in 1240 between the sultan and Richard of Cornwall which extended the Frankish reoccupation in Syria. For Egypt 2018, please check ethnicityology.com.
The succession of al-Kāmil proved difficult: the second son, al-Ṣāliḥ Ibn Ayyūb, who, distrusting of those who had served his father, dismissed the Kurdish emirs to trust his Mamluks, mostly Turks, for the whom he had the fortress of Rawḍa built on an island in the Nile (hence the name of Bahriti, meaning ‘those of the river’). The corasms whom he had hired allowed him to defeat the Sultan of Damascus and the Franks at La Forbie (October 17, 1244); but he soon found himself facing the crusade of Louis IX, king of France, of which he would have been warned by an emissary of Frederick. He died shortly after the capture of Damietta by the Crusaders (November 24, 1249). The widow Shaǧar al-Durr and Fakhr al-Dīn were able to hide his death in order to allow their son al-Mu῾aẓẓam Tūrānshāh time to arrive. But in the aftermath of Fariskūr’s victory, on May 12, 1250, al-Mu῾aẓẓam was assassinated by the Mamluks who had antagonized him, and the sultan married one of them, Aybeg: he triumphed over the Ayyubid sultans, secured possession of Palestine and put an end to an Arab revolt. Aybeg was assassinated at the instigation of the sultan, who was also killed, and the power fell to Quṭuz (1254-1260). He had sent away the most important emirs, including Baybars al-Bunduqdārī, who, however, had to recall when the Mongols approached. The latter was the architect of the victory of ῾Ayn Ǧālūt in 1260; but then he assassinated Quṭuz and became sultan. Baybars repelled the Mongols as far as the Euphrates, weakened the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and reduced the Franks to the possession of a coastal strip; in 1268 he took Antioch. This energetic and brutal sovereign reorganized the defense of the coasts, restored the viability, instituted a postal system; redistributed the territorial districts to divide the iqṭās῾ among the Mamluks who represented the military backbone of the country. These slaves bought by the sultan or the emirs, converted to Islam and freed, tied to their masters by bonds of loyalty, had access to the most prestigious offices. They are responsible for numerous foundations and constructions. Baybars died in 1277; Qalāwūn (1279-1290) completed the work in Syria. The first had welcomed in Cairo a descendant of the Abbasids whom he proclaimed caliph and who was the ruler by right of what was called the “Empire of Islam”; he was at the head of the hierarchy of theologians and men of the law. As in the past, Christians were employed in the administration, but they had to suffer several times a series of harassment. The two patriarchs, Coptic and Melkite,they still maintained their hierarchy; the first extended its jurisdiction over the Churches of Nubia and Ethiopia, a circumstance that assured him some respect from the sultan, while the second had relations with the pope, in particular regarding the religious aid brought to the numerous Christian prisoners in Egypt.
Egypt appeared to Westerners as a ‘rich land’ frequented by Venetian, Pisan and Genoese merchants, as well as by Sicilians and Catalans, who paid huge customs duties; furthermore the kārimī merchants brought products from India to ῾Aydhāb. The textile industry, especially the silk industry, continued to thrive, particularly in Damietta and Tinnis. This wealth explains the greed that arose during the crusades: some aspired to conquer Egypt, while others saw the campaigns organized in this country as a means of forcing the sultan to renounce the Holy Land.
Nevertheless, Egypt’s prosperity remained fragile, because some raw materials, such as timber, were missing, while the flood of the Nile, essential for crops and food resources, could be too weak; in fact, especially in 1200-1201, severe famines hit the country. It was this fragility that suggested to the papacy the idea of implementing a blockade of the sultan’s lands to force him to abandon his hold on the Holy Land: proclaimed in 1289-1291, this block was nevertheless applied in a very brief manner.