The Perfect and the Just

Saladin had the same immediate successor as all the great Muslim leaders of his time: civil war. Barely had he died than his empire was dismembered. One of his sons took Egypt, another Damascus, a third Aleppo. Fortunately, most of his seventeen male children and his only daughter were too young to fight; this limited the fragmentation somewhat. But the sultan had two brothers and several nephews, each of whom wanted his share of the heritage, or all of it if possible. It took nearly nine years of combat—with innumerable alliances, betrayals, and assassinations—before the Ayyubid empire once again obeyed a single master: al-ÝÀdil, Ýthe Just’, the skilful negotiator who had almost become Richard the Lionheart’s brother-in-law.

Saladin had been somewhat suspicious of his younger brother, who was too fluent a talker, too much the intriguer, too ambitious, and too accommodating to the Occidentals. He had thus entrusted him with a fiefdom of no great importance: the châteaux taken from Reynald of Châtillon along the east bank of the Jordan. From this arid and almost uninhabited territory, Saladin thought, his brother could never claim to lead the empire. But the sultan had reckoned wrong. In July 1196 al-ÝÀdil seized Damascus from al-AfÃal. Saladin’s 26-year-old son had proved incapable of governing. Ceding effective power to his vizier, DÐya al-DÐn Ibn al-AthÐr (brother of the historian), he abandoned himself to alcohol and the pleasures of the harem. His uncle disposed of him through a plot and exiled him to the neighbouring fortress of Sarkhad, where al-AfÃl, devoured by remorse, swore to forsake his life of dissolution to devote himself instead to prayer and meditation. In November 1198 another of Saladin’s sons, al-ÝAzÐz, the ruler of Egypt, was killed in a fall from his horse while hunting wolves near the pyramids. Al-AfÃal could no longer resist the temptation to abandon his retreat and succeed his brother, but his uncle had little trouble divesting him of his new possession and sending him back to his life as a recluse. By 1202 al-ÝÀdil, now fifty-seven-years old, was the uncontested master of the Ayyubid empire.

Although he lacked the charisma and genius of his illustrious brother, he was a better administrator. Under his aegis the Arab world experienced a period of peace, prosperity, and tolerance. After the recovery of Jerusalem and the weakening of Frankish power, the sultan saw no reason for continuing the holy war against the Franj; he therefore adopted a policy of coexistence and commercial exchange with them. He even encouraged several hundred Italian merchants to settle in Egypt. An unprecedented calm prevailed on the Arab-Frankish front for several years.

At first, while the Ayyubids were absorbed in their internal quarrels, the Franj tried to restore some order in their own seriously eroded territory. Before leaving the Middle East, Richard had entrusted the ÝKingdom of Jerusalem’, whose capital was now Acre, to one of his nephews, Ýal-kond Herri’, Count Henry of Champagne. As for Guy of Lusignan, whose stock had fallen since his defeat at ÍiÔÔÐn, he was exiled with honour, becoming king of Cyprus, where his dynasty would reign for four centuries. To compensate for the weakness of his state, Henry of Champagne sought to conclude an alliance with the Assassins. He went in person to al-Kahf, one of their fortresses, and there met with their grand master. SinÁn, the old man of the mountain, had died not long before, but his successor exercised the same absolute authority over the sect. To prove this to his Frankish visitor, he ordered two adherents to hurl themselves off the ramparts, which they did without a moment’s hesitation. It seems that the grand master was even prepared to continue the killing, but Henry begged him to hold off. A treaty of alliance was concluded. To honour their guest, the Assassins inquired whether he did not perhaps have a murder he wanted committed. Henry thanked them, promising to call upon their services should the occasion arise. Ironically, on 10 September 1197, not long after witnessing this scene, Richard’s nephew died when he accidentally fell from a window of his palace in Acre.

The weeks following his death saw the only serious conflicts of this period. Some fanatical German pilgrims seized Saida and Beirut before being cut to pieces on the road to Jerusalem, while at the same moment al-ÝÀdil was retaking Jaffa. But on the first of July 1198 a new truce was signed for a period of five years and eight months. Saladin’s brother took advantage of the lull to consolidate his power. An astute statesman, he was aware that if he was to ward off a fresh invasion, it would not be enough to reach an understanding with the Franj of the Mediterranean coast: he had to address himself to the West itself. Might it not be opportune to use his good relations with the Italian merchants to convince them no longer to agree to unleash waves of uncontrolled warriors onto the shores of Egypt and Syria?

In 1202 he recommended to his son al-KÁmil, Ýthe Perfect’, who was viceroy of Egypt, that talks be opened with the illustrious Republic of Venice, which was then the principal maritime power in the Mediterranean. Since both states understood the language of pragmatism and commercial interests, an accord was rapidly reached. Al-KÁmil guaranteed the Venetians access to the ports of the Nile Delta, such as Alexandria and Damietta, offering them all necessary protection and assistance. In return, the republic of the doges undertook not to support any Western expedition against Egypt. The Italians preferred not to reveal the fact that they had already signed an agreement with a group of Western princes whereby in exchange for a large sum, they would transport nearly thirty thousand Frankish warriors to Egypt. Skilful negotiators, the Venetians resolved not to violate any of their commitments.

When the knights in question arrived in Venice eager to embark on their voyage, they were warmly greeted by the doge Dandolo. According to Ibn al-AthÐr, He was a very old, blind man, and when he rode on horseback, he needed a squire to guide his mount. In spite of his age and infirmity, Dandolo announed that he himself intended to take part in the expedition now being mustered under the banner of the cross. Before departing, however, he demanded that the knights pay the agreed sum. When they requested that payment be deferred, Dandolo replied that he would accept only on condition that the expedition begin by occupying the port of Zadar, which for several years had been Venice’s rival in the Adriatic. The knights agreed with some reluctance, for Zadar was a Christian city belonging to the king of Hungary, a faithful servant of Rome. But they had little choice. The doge demanded this small service or the immediate payment of the promised sum. Zadar was therefore attacked and plundered in November 1202.

But the Venetians were aiming for greater things. They now sought to convince the commanders of the expedition to make a detour to Constantinople in order to place on the throne a young prince who favoured the Occidentals. Although it was clear that the doge’s ultimate objective was to bring the Mediterranean under the control of his republic, the arguments he advanced were clever indeed. He played upon the knights’ distrust of the Greek Ýheretics’, held out to them the prospect of the immense treasures of Byzantium, and explained to the commanders that control of the city of the RÙm would enable them to launch more effective attacks against the Muslims. In the end, these appeals were convincing. In July 1203 the Venetian fleet arrived at Constantinople.

The king of the RÙm fled without a fight, Ibn al-AthÐr writes, and the Franj placed their young candidate on the throne. But he held power in name only, for the Franj made all the decisions. They imposed very heavy tribute on the people, and when payment proved impossible, they seized all the gold and jewels, even that which was part of the crosses and images of the Messiah, peace be upon him. The RÙm then revolted, killed the young monarch, expelled the Franj from the city, and barricaded the city gates. Since their forces were meagre, they sent a messenger to SüleymÁn, the son of Kilij Arslan, ruler of Konya, asking that he come to their aid. But he was unable to do so.

The RÙm were in no position to defend themselves. Not only was a good part of their army made up of Frankish mercenaries, but many Venetian agents were acting against them within the walls. In April 1204, after barely a week of fighting, the city was invaded. For three days, it was delivered to pillage and carnage. Icons, statues, books, and innumerable works of art—testimony to the Greek and Byzantine civilizations—were stolen or destroyed, and thousands of inhabitants were slaughtered.

All the RÙm were killed or despoiled, the Mosul historian relates. Some of their notables, pursued by the Franj, attempted to seek refuge in the great church they call Sophia. A group of priests and monks came out bearing crosses and Bibles, begging the attackers to spare their lives, but the Franj paid no heed to their entreaties. They massacred them all and plundered the church.

It is also reported that a prostitute who had come on the Frankish expedition sat on the patriarch’s throne singing lewd songs, while drunken soldiers raped Greek nuns in neighbouring monasteries. As Ibn al-AthÐr explains, after the sack of Constantinople, one of the most reprehensible acts of history, a Latin emperor of the Orient was crowned: Baldwin of Flanders. The RÙm, of course, never recognized his authority. Those who had escaped from the imperial palace settled in Nicaea, which became the provisional capital of the Greek empire until the recapture of Byzantium fifty-seven years later.

Far from reinforcing the Frankish settlements in Syria, the demented Constantinople escapade dealt them a severe blow. In fact, many of the knights who had come to seek their fortune in the Orient now felt that Greek territory offered better prospects, for here there were fiefdoms to be taken and riches to be amassed, whereas the narrow coastal strip around Acre, Tripoli, and Antioch held little attraction for these adventurers. In the short term, the expedition’s detour to Constantinople deprived the Franj of Syria of the reinforcements that might have permitted a fresh operation against Jerusalem, and in 1204 they felt compelled to ask the sultan to renew the truce. Al-ÝÀdil agreed to a six-year extension. Although he was now at the apogee of his power, the brother of Saladin had no intention of throwing himself into any grandiose enterprise of reconquest. He was not in the least disturbed by the presence of the Franj on the coast.

The majority of the Franj of Syria would have liked nothing better than a prolongation of peace, but the others across the sea, especially in Rome, dreamed only of a reprise of hostilities. In 1210 control of the Kingdom of Antioch passed, by marriage, to John of Brienne, a sixty-year-old knight recently arrived from the West. Although he agreed to renew the truce for another five years in July 1212, he besieged the pope with messengers urging him to accelerate preparations for a powerful expedition, so that an offensivecould be launched as early as the summer of 1217. The first vessels of armed pilgrims reached Acre somewhat later, in September of that year. They were soon followed by hundreds of others. In April 1218 a new Frankish invasion began. Its target was Egypt.

Al-ÝÀdil was surprised, and above all disappointed, by this expedition. Had he not done everything in his power, not only since his accession to the throne but even before, during his negotiations with Richard, to put an end to the state of war? Had he not suffered for years the sarcastic taunts of religious leaders, who accused him of having abandoned the cause of jihÁd out of friendship for these fair-haired men? This 73-year-old man, who was in ill health, had for months refused to lend credence to the reports reaching him. When a band of demented Germans began pillaging some villages in Galilee, he considered it just another instance of the usual misadventure and did not react. He refused to believe that the West would mount a massive invasion after a quarter of a century of peace.

Nevertheless, the reports were becoming increasingly detailed. Tens of thousands of Frankish fighters had gathered before the city of Damietta, which controls access to the principal branch of the Nile. On his father’s instructions, al-KÁmil led his troops out to meet them. But he was alarmed by their number, and avoided a confrontation. Cautiously, he established his camp south of the port, so that he could support the garrison without being forced into a set-piece battle. Damietta was one of Egypt’s best-defended cities. To the east and south its ramparts were ringed by a narrow band of marshy ground, while to the north and west the Nile assured a permanent link to the hinterland. The town could therefore be effectively encircled only if the enemy was able to establish control of the river. To protect themselves against just that danger, the people of the city had invented an ingenious device consisting of a huge iron chain: one end was affixed to the ramparts of the city, the other to a citadel built on an island near the opposite bank of the river. This chain barred access to the Nile. When the Franj saw that no vessel could pass through unless the chain was detached, they stubbornly assaulted the citadel. For three months their attacks were repelled, until finally they hit upon the idea of trimming two great vessels and making them into a sort of floating tower as high as the citadel. On 25 August 1218 they assaulted the citadel. The chain was broken.

Several days later, when a carrier-pigeon brought Al-ÝÀdil news of this defeat at Damietta, he was profoundly shaken. It seemed clear that the fall of the citadel would soon lead to the fall of Damietta itself, and no obstacle would then impede the invaders’ path to Cairo. A long campaign loomed, one he had neither the strength nor the inclination to contest. Just a few hours later, he succumbed to a heart attack.

The real catastrophe for the Muslims was not the fall of the river citadel but the death of the aged sultan. In purely military terms, al-KÁmil managed to contain the enemy, to inflict severe losses upon him, and to prevent him from completing the encirclement of Damietta. Politically, however, the inevitable debilitating struggle for succession erupted, despite the sultan’s many efforts to ensure that his sons would avoid that fate. He had determined the division of his domain before his death: Egypt was to go to al-KÁmil, Damascus and Jerusalem to al-MuÝazam, JazÐra to al-Ashraf, and less important fiefdoms to his younger sons. But it was impossible to satisfy ambitions all around: even if relative harmony prevailed among the brothers, certain conflicts were inevitable. In Cairo many of the emirs took advantage of al-KÁmil’s absence to try to place one of his younger brothers on the throne. The coup d’état was on the point of success when the ruler of Egypt was informed about it. Forgetting all about Damietta and the Franj, he broke camp and rushed back to his capital, there to reestablish order and punish the conspirators. The invaders swiftly occupied the positions he had abandoned. Damietta was now surrounded.

Although he had received the support of his brother al-MuÝazam, who rushed from Damascus to Damietta with his army, al-KÁmil was no longer in a position to save the city, and still less to halt the invasion. He therefore made the peace overtures particularly generous. After asking al-MuÝazam to dismantle the fortifications of Jerusalem, al-KÁmil sent word to the Franj assuring them that he was prepared to hand the holy city over to them if they would agree to leave Egypt. But the Franj, who now felt they were in a position of strength, refused to negotiate. In October 1219 al-KÁmil made his offer more explicit: he would deliver not only Jerusalem, but all of Palestine west of the Jordan, with the True Cross thrown in to boot. This time the invaders took the trouble to study the proposals. John of Brienne favoured acceptance, as did all the Franj of Syria. But the final decision was in the hands of a man named Pelagius, a Spanish cardinal and fanatical advocate of holy war, whom the pope had appointed head of the expedition. Never, he said, would he agree to negotiate with Saracens. To make sure that his rejection of peace terms could not be misunderstood, he ordered an immediate assault on Damietta. The garrison, decimated by fighting, famine, and a recent epidemic, offered no resistance.

Pelagius had now decided to seize all of Egypt. If he did not march on Cairo immediately, it was because he was awaiting the imminent arrival of the West’s most powerful monarch, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, king of Germany and Sicily, who was in command of a large expedition. Al-KÁmil, who had inevitably got wind of these rumours, prepared for war. His emissaries ranged through the lands of Islam calling upon his brothers, cousins, and allies to rush to the aid of Egypt. In addition, west of the delta, not far from Alexandria, he outfitted a fleet; in the summer of 1220 it took the Occidental vessels by surprise off the coast of Cyprus, inflicting a crushing defeat upon them. Once the enemy had thus been deprived of his mastery of the sea, al-KÁmil hurried to make another peace offer, this time promising to sign a thirty-year truce. In vain. Pelagius saw this excessive generosity as proof that the ruler of Cairo was at bay. Had they not just heard that Frederick II had been crowned emperor in Rome and had sworn to leave for Egypt without delay? He was expected by the spring of 1221 at the latest: hundreds of vessels and tens of thousands of soldiers would accompany him. In the meantime, the Frankish army had to sustain a situation of no war, no peace.

In fact, Frederick II was not to arrive until eight years later! Pelagius waited for him patiently until the beginning of the summer of 1221. In July the Frankish army left Damietta, heading resolutely for Cairo. In the Egyptian capital, al-KÁmil’s soldiers had to use force to prevent the inhabitants from fleeing. But the sultan seemed confident, for two of his brothers had come to his aid: al-Ashraf, who with his troops from JazÐra had joined him in trying to prevent the invaders’ reaching Cairo, and al-MuÝazam, who was leading his Syrian army north, boldly interposing his forces between the enemy and Damietta. As for al-KÁmil himself, he was anxiously watching, with barely concealed joy, the gradual swelling of the waters of the Nile, for the level of the river had begun rising without the Occidentals’ taking any notice. In mid-August the land became so muddy and slippery that the knights had first to halt their advance and then to withdraw their entire army.

Barely had the retreat begun when a group of Egyptian soldiers moved to demolish the dikes. It was the twenty-sixth of August 1221. Within a few hours, as the Muslim troops cut off the exit routes, the entire Frankish army found itself mired in a sea of mud. Two days later, Pelagius, now desperate to save his army from annihilation, sent a messenger to al-KÁmil to seek peace. The Ayyubid sovereign laid down his conditions: the Franj would have to evacuate Damietta and sign an eight-year truce. In return, their army could leave by sea unhindered. Obviously, there was no longer any question of offering them Jerusalem.

In celebrating this victory, as complete as it was unexpected, many Arabs wondered whether al-KÁmil had been serious when he had offered the Franj the holy city. Had it not perhaps been a trick, an attempt to gain time? All would soon become clear.

During the distressing crisis of Damietta, the ruler of Egypt had often wondered about this famous Frederick, Ýal-enboror’ (the emperor), whose arrival was so eagerly awaited by the Franj. Was he really as powerful as they said? Was he truly determined to wage holy war against the Muslims? As he showered his collaborators with ever more questions and gathered more information from travellers who had been to Sicily, the island kingdom over which Frederick ruled, al-KÁmil’s sense of astonishment mounted steadily. In 1225, when he learned that the emperor had just married Yolanda, the daughter of John of Brienne, thereby acquiring the title of king of Jerusalem, he decided to send an embassy headed by a subtle diplomat, the emir Fakhr al-DÐn Ibn al-Shaykh. The latter was amazed when he arrived in Palermo: yes, everything they said about Frederick was true. He spoke and wrote Arabic perfectly, he felt unconcealed admiration for Muslim civilization, and he had nothing but contempt for the barbarous West, especially for the pope of Rome. His closest collaborators were Arabs, and so were the soldiers of his palace guard; at times of prayer, they bowed down in the direction of Mecca. This man of inquiring mind, who had spent his entire youth in Sicily, then a major centre of Arab sciences, felt that he had little in common with the dull and fanatical Franj. The voice of the muezzin rang out across his kingdom unimpeded.

Fakhr al-DÐn soon became a friend and confidant of Frederick. Through him, close links were forged between the Germanic emperor and the sultan of Cairo. The two monarchs exchanged letters in which they discussed the logic of Aristotle, the immortality of the soul, and the genesis of the universe. When al-KÁmil learned of his correspondent’s passion for observing animal behaviour, he sent him bears, apes, and dromedaries, as well as an elephant, which the emperor entrusted to the Arab caretaker of his private zoo. The sultan was more than a little content to discover an enlightened Western leader who, like himself, understood the futility of these endless religious wars. He therefore unhesitatingly told Frederick of his desire for him to come to the Orient in the near future, adding that he would be happy to see the emperor in possession of Jerusalem.

This outburst of generosity becomes more comprehensible if we remember that at the time the offer was made, the holy city belonged not to al-KÁmil but to his brother al-MuÝazam, with whom the ruler of Cairo had just fallen out. Al-KÁmil felt that the occupation of Palestine by his ally Frederick would create a buffer state protecting him from any undertakings in which al-MuÝazam might indulge. In the long run, a reinvigorated Kingdom of Jerusalem could also effectively interpose itself between Egypt and the warrior peoples of Asia, for the threat from that quarter was now looming. A fervent Muslim would never have so coldly contemplated abandoning Jerusalem, but al-KÁmil was quite different from his uncle Saladin. He regarded the question of Jerusalem as primarily political and military; the religious aspect was relevant only to the extent that it influenced public opinion. Frederick, who felt no closer to Christianity than to Islam, took an identical attitude. If he wanted to take possession of the holy city, it was not to commune with his thoughts at the tomb of Christ, but because a success of that kind would strengthen his position in his struggle against the pope, who had just excommunicated him as punishment for having postponed his ÿxpedition to the East.

When the emperor disembarked at Acre in September 1228 he was convinced that with al-KÁmil’s help he would be able to enter Jerusalem in triumph, thus silencing his enemies. In fact, the ruler of Cairo found himself in an extremely embarrassing position, for recent events had completely redrawn the regional map. Al-MuÝazam had died suddenly in November 1227, bequeathing Damascus to his son al-NÁÒir, a young man lacking in all experience. Al-KÁmil, who could now contemplate seizing Damascus and Palestine himself, was no longer interested in establishing a buffer state between Egypt and Syria. In other words, al-KÁmil was not greatly pleased at the prospect of the arrival of Frederick, who in all friendship would lay claim to Jerusalem and its environs. A man of honour like al-KÁmil could not renege on his promises, but he could try to stall, telling the emperor that the situation had suddenly changed.

Frederick, who had come with a mere three thousand men, thought that the taking of Jerusalem would be no more than a formality. He therefore did not dare attempt a policy of intimidation, but instead sought to cajole al-KÁmil. I am your friend, he wrote to him.It was you who urged me to make this trip. The pope and all the kings of the West now know of my mission. If I return empty-handed, I will lose much prestige. For pity’s sake, give me Jerusalem, that I may hold my head high! Al-KÁmil was touched, and so he sent his friend Fakhr al-DÐn to Frederick, bearing gifts and a double-edged reply. I too, he wrote, must take account of opinion. If I deliver Jerusalem to you, it could lead not only to a condemnation of my actions by the caliph, but also to a religious insurrection that would threaten my throne. For each side, it was a matter of saving face. Frederick implored Fakhr al-DÐn to find an honourable way out. The latter, with the sultan’s agreement, threw Frederick a lifeline. ÝThe people would never accept the surrender of Jerusalem, won at such cost by Saladin, without a battle. On the other hand, if agreement on the holy city could avoid bloody warfare . . . ’ The emperor understood. He smiled, thanked his friend for his advice, and then ordered his small force of troops to prepare for combat. At the end of November 1228, as Frederick marched with great pomp towards the port of Jaffa, al-KÁmil spread the word throughout the country that it was necessary to prepare for a long and bitter war against the powerful sovereign from the West.

A few weeks later, with no battle having been joined, the text of an accord was ready: Frederick obtained Jerusalem and a corridor linking it to the coast, as well as Bethlehem, Nazareth, the environs of Tyre, and the powerful fortress of TibnÐn, east of Tyre. In the holy city itself, the Muslims preserved a presence in the Íaram al-SharÐf sector, where their principal sanctuaries were clustered. The treaty was signed on 18 February 1229 by Frederick and by the ambassador Fakhr al-DÐn, in the name of the sultan. A month later, the emperor went to Jerusalem, whose Muslim population had been evacuated by al-KÁmil, except for some religious leaders left in charge of the Islamic places of worship. Frederick was received by Shams al-DÐn, the qÁÃÐ of Nablus, who gave him the keys to the city and acted as a sort of guide. The qÁÃÐ himself related what happened during this visit.

When the emperor, king of the Franj, came to Jerusalem, I remained with him, as al-KÁmil had requested of me. I entered Íaram al-SharÐf with him, where he toured the small mosques. Then we went to al-AqÒÁ mosque, whose architecture he admired, as well as the Dome of the Rock. He was fascinated by the beauty of the minbar, and climbed the stairs to the top. When he descended, he took me by the hand and led me back towards al-AqÒÁ. There he found a priest who, Bible in hand, was trying to enter the mosque. Furious, the emperor began to browbeat him. ÝWhat brings you to this place? By God, if one of you dares step in here again without permission, I will pluck out his eyes!’ The priest departed trembling. That night, I asked the muezzin not to call the prayer, in order not to inconvenience the emperor. But when I saw him the next day, the emperor asked me, ÝQÁÃÐ, why didn’t the muezzins call the prayer as usual?’ I answered: ÝIt is I who prevented them from doing so, out of respect for Your Majesty.’ ÝYou should not have acted thus’, the emperor said, Ýfor if I spent this night in Jerusalem, it was above all to hear the muezzin’s call in the night.’

During his visit to the Dome of the Rock, Frederick read an inscription saying: Saladin has purged this holy city of mushrikÐn. This term, which literally means Ýassociationists’, or even Ýpolytheists’, was applied to those who associated other divinities to the worship of the one God. In this context it designated Christians, believers in the Trinity. Pretending to be unaware of this, the emperor, with an amused grin, asked his embarrassed hosts who these mushrikÐn might be. A few minutes later, Frederick noticed a wooden lattice at the entrance to the Dome; he asked what it was for. ÝIt is to prevent birds from entering this place’, came the answer. Before his flabbergasted guides, Frederick then commented, in an obvious allusion to the Franj, ÝAnd to think that God allowed pigs in!’ SibÔ Ibn al-Jawzi, a Damascene chronicler and brilliant orator who was aged forty-three in 1229, interpreted these remarks as proof that Frederick was neither a Christian nor a Muslim but most certainly an atheist. Basing himself on the testimony of those who had seen the emperor close up in Jerusalem, he added that he was covered with red hair, bald, and myopic. Had he been a slave, he would not have fetched 200 dirhams.

SibÔ’s hostility to the emperor reflects the sentiments of the great majority of Arabs. In other circumstances, his friendly attitude to Islam and its civilization would undoubtedly have been appreciated. But public opinion was scandalized by the terms of the treaty signed by al-KÁmil. As soon as the news that the holy city had been ceded to the Franj became known, says the chronicler, the lands of Islam were swept by a veritable storm. Because of the gravity of the event, demonstrations of public mourning were organized. In Baghdad, Mosul, and Aleppo, meetings were held in the mosques to denounce al-KÁmil’s betrayal. But it was in Damascus that reaction was most violent. King al-NÁsir asked me to assemble the people in the great mosque of Damascus, SibÔ recounts, so that I could speak to them of what had happened in Jerusalem. I could not but accept, for my duty to the faith compelled me.

The chronicler-preacher mounted the steps of the pulpit before a delirious crowd, his head enveloped in a turban of black cloth. ÝThe new disaster that has befallen us’, he began, Ýhas broken our hearts. Our pilgrims can no longer visit Jerusalem, the verses of the Koran will no longer be recited in its schools. How great is the shame of the Muslims today!’ Al-NÁÒir attended the demonstration in person. Open war was declared between him and his uncle al-KÁmil. No sooner had the latter handed Jerusalem over to Frederick than the Egyptian army imposed a tight blockade on Damascus. The struggle against the treason of the ruler of Cairo became the slogan under which the people of the Syrian metropolis were mobilized in firm support of their young sovereign. SibÔ’s eloquence, however, was not enough to save Damascus. Al-KÁmil, with his overwhelming numerical superiority, emerged victorious from the confrontation, forcing the city to capitulate and reestablishing the unity of the Ayyubid empire under his own authority.

In June 1229 al-NÁÒir was forced to abandon his capital. Bitter, but by no means without hope, he settled in the fortress of Karak east of the Jordan, where during the years of truce he would become the symbol of steadfastness in the face of the enemy. Many Damascenes retained their personal attachment to him, and many religious militants, disappointed with the excessively conciliatory policy of the other Ayyubids, kept up hope thanks to this spirited young prince, who incited his peers to continue the jihÁdagainst the invaders. Who but I, he wrote, expends all his efforts to protect Islam? Who else fights for the cause of God in all circumstances? In November 1239, one hundred days after the truce had expired, al-NÁÒir retook Jerusalem in a surprise raid. There was an explosion of joy throughout the Arab world. The poets compared the victor to his great-uncle Saladin, and sung his praises for having thus expunged the outrage of al-KÁmil’s betrayal.

His apologists failed to mention that al-NÁÒir had been reconciled with the ruler of Cairo shortly before the latter’s death in 1238, probably hoping that the government of Damascus would thereby be restored to him. The poets also omit to point out that the Ayyubid prince did not seek to retain Jerusalem after retaking it. Believing the city indefensible, he quickly destroyed the Tower of David and the other fortifications recently built by the Franj. He then withdrew with his troops to Karak. Fervour, one might say, did not exclude political or military realism. The subsequent behaviour of this hard-line leader is nevertheless intriguing. During the inevitable war of succession that followed the death of al-KÁmil, al-NÁÒir proposed to the Franj that together they form an alliance against his cousins. In 1243 he officially recognized their right to Jerusalem in an effort to pacify the Occidentals, even offering to withdraw the Muslim religious leaders from Íaram al-SharÐf. Al-KÁmil had never gone so far in appeasement.

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