This winter in Sufi Bookshop in Zamalek I picked up the October 1964 issue of al-Katib magazine.
It took it off the shelf, in part because of its elegant cover and also because it is an interesting 1960s political and cultural journal. This edition contains articles on “The battle between left and right in Islam”, “The dictatorship of the proletariat”, “The development of knowledge in [ancient] Greece”, and a review of Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth among other things
It also includes a poem by Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati on Pablo Picasso and some nice enough illustrations. Apparently, the next issue would feature an article by Bertrand Russell on non-alignment and its role in building world peace.
But what interested me most about this particular copy was not the journal itself but what was tucked inside it. Folded in half and slipped in at a random point were 8 small sheets of paper covered in neat blue handwriting.
It took me a little while to see what it was talking about because of all the English names transliterated into Arabic that came throughout the text: Warren, Tippit, Oswald, Kennedy.
After squinting at the word وارن for a while I realised that, of course, it was an 8 page essay on the Kennedy assassination. The title was “These are Kennedy’s Killers”.
The writer began his essay by identifying 4 different view points that people had on the case: 1) That Oswald was innocent of the murder and had been set up. 2) That he was a political killer, trained by the Soviet Union, who was planning to flee to Canada after the assassination. 3) That he simply hated everyone in power and acted alone, for reasons that were a little unclear. This, the writer says, was the Warren Commission’s view. 4) That he was working with the far-right to kill Kennedy, who was seen as soft on Communism and Cuba.
The essay then goes on to say that, after the Warren commission, many questions were still unanswered. It then goes through a long list of these questions: why was there no residue from firing a gun on Oswald’s cheek? how did he have time to get down from the book depository? etc. A lot of the questions are still tossed around internet forums today.
In the end the writer decides that the lack of answers to these questions, as well as other details, points to a wide and multi-faceted conspiracy, organised by people who stood to benefit from Kennedy’s death. As far as Oswald was concerned, he was just an insignificant tool in the operation. Then the writer closes the piece with a question, asking, “one more time, Who are the people who killed President Kennedy?”
I have no idea who or what this little conspiratorial document was intended for nor who it was written by. Perhaps it was the draft of an article that was going to be published on the Kennedy assassination, perhaps it was just notes made by someone who was thinking about the case and reading al-Katib at the same time.
Its existence does, at least, go to show that we don’t need the internet for news to go global. Even in 1964, people in Egypt were writing short essays responding to the Warren Commission. It also tells us that we don’t need the internet or its Russian teens for conspiracy theories to spread. They too were going strong in the 1960s.