Sunday, November 23, 2003

JFK REMEMBERED: I really hate to Middle-Easternize John F. Kennedy. What I mean by that is that I don't want to judge him on his accomplishments in the Middle East, because he was much, much bigger than that. He was big--and big on a world scale. Anyway, I spent some time in the local library and I stumbled on reactions on his assassination from different sources. It must be noted that the perception of the Unites States was largely positive; and JFK was seen in the Arab world as a progressive with no grudge or hostile intent to Arab nationalism. His tragic assassination, however, briefly united Middle Eastern adversaries. So here's a list of reactions from the Middle-East:

- Egyptian President Nasser was at a loss for what to do with himself and walked into his office. He reacted by saying "My God, why have I dressed, why have I come here? There is nothing any of us can do about it." A book for condolences left out by the American Embassy in Cairo for three days was signed by more than a thousand people, including Vice President Anwar al-Sadat, the Egyptian army chief of Staff General Amr, as did the foreign ministers of Yemen and Algeria who were in town that day. Enite staffs of many embassies stopped by. Nasser al-Din Nashashibi, a rabidly anti-American columnist, delivered a ten-minute eulogy on television. Cairo television showed Kennedy's funeral in its entirety four times. One Egyptian wrote to the American embassy that he had names his new son Kennedy, even enclosing a copy of the birth certificate; another man apologized for the delay in his note of condolences, explaining that his only son had died days earlier. Cairo's Joseph Cathedral, which can seat only 600, somehow managed to cram in more than 4,000.
- In Tehran, Navab Street, which ran from the downtown to Mehrabad Airport was renamed after the late President.
- In Basra, the southern Iraqi city, hundreds of Iraqis crowded the streets in silence during memorial services for Kennedy.
- In Beirut, flags flew at half-mast and the long-planned anniversary of the celebrations of the founding of the Phalange were cancelled and replaced by a session of eulogies for the late President. The headmistress of Beirut's College Protestant des Jeunes Files wrote on her blackboard: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
- King Abdullah was the first person to call the American embassy in Amman; the government Yemen closed all their offices on November 24 and 25 in honor of JFK.
- Algeria had a special relationship with the President because of his 1957 Senate speech in which he backed Algerian independence. The Algerian government sent its foreign minister to Washington for the funeral and flew flags at half-staff for a week. President Ahmed Ben Bella renamed the main square in Algiers "Place John Kennedy."
- In Saudi Arabia, there was a crowd waiting to sign the embassy condolence; one man had come all the way from Medina. An ailing finance minister, Shaykh Abdullah Sulayman had to be carried as he signed the book.

And the Middle East may have been the first place where conspiracy theories began to crisscross the region, long before the Warren Commission and Oliver Stone's movie. Most blamed it on segregationists, or "les partisans de la segregation raciale as Ben Bella claimed, or Communists. Even Zionists were blamed, mostly in Palestinian territories.

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