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The Crusades in North Africa  

Matt King

Although Jerusalem was the ultimate target of many of the largest crusading expeditions during the medieval period, North Africa nonetheless played a crucial role in this movement. Following the establishment of the Crusader states at the end of the 11th century, Latin Christians clashed with the Fatimids of Egypt for regional control of the Levant and Nile River delta. This conflict gave way in the 13th century to the “Egyptian strategy,” through which crusaders thought the most likely way to retake Jerusalem was by attacking the rich and fertile lands of the Nile. The crusades of King Louis IX, which were directed at Egypt and Tunis, were motivated in part by the idea that seizing these lands in North Africa would ultimately lead to the reconquest of the Holy Land. Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, crusading fervor reached the shores of North Africa via the Reconquista. Beginning in the 13th century and extending through the early modern period, Christian leaders in Iberia viewed campaigns in northwest Africa as an extension of their earlier repulsion of Muslims from the peninsula. These crusades, which were theorized as dynastic enterprises that served to both spread Christianity and expand the borders of empires, persisted into the 16th century as the papacy marshaled the assistance of European Christian powers against the Ottomans. The response of Muslim dynasties in North Africa to these expeditions was never uniform, as some preferred diplomacy with the aggressing Franks and others conflict. However, there gradually developed in the Islamic world the idea that a persistent jihad against Mediterranean-wide Frankish aggression was an appropriate response. The memory of medieval crusades was a particularly potent one in France, where Louis IX’s expeditions were evoked during France’s conquest of Algeria in the 19th century.

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Coptic Christianity  

Lois Farag

Copts received the Christian faith through Mark the Evangelist in ad 42. Through the first seven centuries of Greco-Roman rule, a distinctive Coptic theological stance was formed as well as its literature, art, and liturgy. Coptic monasticism shaped Coptic spirituality and influenced the universal church. With the Arab Islamic conquest in the 7th century and with its successive dynasties, followed by Ottoman, British, and French political rule, the Copts adapted to each political system. Coptic Christianity survived through all this political turmoil to the present time, emerging in the 21st century as a vibrant Coptic Christianity that is spreading throughout the world.