One of the most important guilds of merchants in the history of the Middle East. It conducted extensive trade between the East and the West at the end of the Middle Ages, including the Karimi commerce in spices, jewelry, and precious stones, from the Far East to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, via the Red Sea and the Eastern Desert of Egypt and the Nile Valley. Its centers were in QUS, Cairo, Alexandria, and Damietta.
It is still difficult to trace the origin of the Karimi. However, the first reference to these merchants goes back to the tenth century, and particularly to the Fatimid epoch in Egypt. Though the first names among the membership of the guild are Muslim and Jewish, there is no doubt that Copts were also represented among them.
Even though the earliest roots of the Karimis are still enveloped in mystery, and though the detection of the names of Coptic merchants among the Karimi guild is still difficult, it is known that the last participation of the Copts coincided with the beginning of the Crusades and a change in Egypt’s commercial policy during the reign of the Ayyubids, which made it incumbent upon this guild to be Islamic and its members Muslims.
Perhaps the last notable Copt of this guild was the Karimi merchant Abu al-Majd ibn Abi Ghalib ibn Sawirus, who lived in the closing years of the Fatimid dynasty and the opening years of Ayyubid rule in the reign of Salah al-Din (1171-1193). He died less than two years before the Ayyubid sultan al-Kamil (1218-1238) came to power. Abu al-Majd had endowed his enormous wealth, amounting to 17,000 dinars, to charity after he, as a layman, was selected to become the seventy-fourth patriarch of the Coptic Church, under the name of JOHN VI (1167-1189).
- Labib, S. Y. Sozial und Wirtschaftsgeschichte. Handelsgeschichte Ägyptens im Spätmittelalter (1171-1517). Wiesbaden, 1965.