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Egypt Through the Ages

The Fatimid Caliphate



After the last rule by the Tulunids, the country fell into a state of anarchy. Its weak and defenseless condition made it an easy prey for the Fatimids, a Shiite dynasty that in 909, rejecting the authority of the Abbasids, had proclaimed their own caliphate in Tunisia and by the mid-10th century controlled most of North Africa. In 969 they invaded and conquered Egypt and subsequently founded a new city, Cairo, north of Al Fustat, making it their capital. See Caliphate.

Al Fustat, however, remained the commercial hub of the country under the Fatimids. It was an impressive, multistoried urban center with an excellent underground sewage system. An Iranian traveler, Nasir-i-Khosrau, who visited Egypt in 1046, marveled at the rich markets and the security of the land. Egypt was then enjoying a period of tranquillity and prosperity.

The Fatimids, although Shiites in their beliefs, for the most part coexisted peacefully with the predominantly Sunni population. They founded the oldest university in the world, Al Azhar, and Cairo became a great intellectual center.


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