The city played a role in the machinations for control of the Fatimid vizierate: first in 1164, when Shirkuh was besieged in the city by the combined forces of Shiwar and Amalric I of Jerusalem for three months; then again in 1168 when the city was assaulted again by Amalric's army, who took the city after three days on November 4 and indiscriminately killed the inhabitants. This atrocity angered the Coptic Egyptians, who had seen the Crusaders as deliverers but had suffered as much as the Muslim inhabitants of Bilbeis. The Copts ended their support of the Crusaders and united with their non-Christian neighbors against the foreigners. (See Crusader invasion of Egypt.)
The city is small in size but densely populated, with over 300,000 residents. It also houses an Egyptian Air Force Academy complex, which contains the town's largest public school in Al-Zafer.