By William Fisher.
Judith Miller, you may recall, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning ex-New York Times journalist who left the paper after it was discovered that she was Bush-era Vice President Dick Cheney’s “stenographer.” A Times investigation found serious errors in many of her stories about weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq War.
She also spent three months in jail for refusing to reveal her sources in the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.
Well, Judy’s at it again!
She is trying to gin up support for two Egyptian men who have been convicted of corruption, and who are currently in exile.
The subjects of Miller’s current defense are Youssef Boutros Ghali, the former finance minister of Egypt, who Miller says was “once the highest-ranking Coptic Christian in the country since the revolution,” and Rachid Mohamed Rachid, who became Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Industry in July 2004. Two years later, the ministry was expanded to include domestic trade within Egypt and was renamed the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). He has been described as the first businessman ever to hold a cabinet position in Egypt and as a reformer.
Writing in the conservative journal, Newsmax, Miller says, only a year ago, Ghali was among Egypt’s most prominent officials. “With a doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he had given up a lucrative post at the International Monetary Fund to return to Cairo 18 years ago to help transform his nation’s moribund state-owned economy.”
She added, “On several key issues, the reformers had finally won, making Egypt what the IMF called an ’emerging success story,’ one of the region’s ‘fastest-growing economies’.”
“But since the January 2011 uprising at Tahrir Square, which toppled President Hosni Mubarak in only 18 days, the military-led civilian transitional government has been waging a judicial jihad against Ghali and others who helped free Egypt’s economy,” she wrote.
Characterizing the two exiles as economic heroes, Miller said, “Once credited by U.S. officials for policies producing annual growth of some seven percent for several years – foreign and domestic investment in industries that private investors had once shunned, and robust job creation – they have now been blamed not only for a culture of corruption that is nearly as old as Egypt’s pyramids, but also for Mubarak’s political failings.”
“Although the free-market policies resulted in a more equitable distribution of income than that of India, Mexico, Brazil, and several other emerging economies, the reformers are now hunted men,” she said.
Convicted by a Cairo criminal court of “squandering public resources,” based on often bogus evidence in sham trials that in Ghali’s case lasted only six minutes, they are either in jail, in exile, or on the run.
“Travel bans and Interpol warrants have been issued for them, passports canceled, visas revoked, and their property and other assets in Egypt have been frozen…The scapegoating of the reformers and the reversal of their policies have increased the likelihood of an economic meltdown,” she wrote.
In an interview, Rachid said that to reignite growth, Egypt must restore security, install a government that can rule for three or four years, rather than three or four months, and finally, stop attacking the free-market system for short-term political gain. “Without this, investor confidence in Egypt will not be restored,” he warned.
Miller continues: “The reformers are now widely dispersed, exchanging news and political gossip through emails and by cellphone.”
Some, like Ghali and Rachid, “the first businessman ever to hold a senior Cabinet post in Egypt, have sought refuge in other countries. Others, like Ahmed Maghrabi, the former minister of housing, and Yusuf Wali, the former agriculture minister who hails from one of Egypt’s most prominent land-owning clans, are in jail.”
“Once-powerful men courted by the world’s financial elite, they are now largely isolated, abandoned by the country they struggled to change. Most have been assailed by Egypt’s vituperative, scandal-mongering press,” she wrote.
After the six-minute trial in June, Ghali was convicted in absentia and sentenced to 30 years in prison for allegedly using a Finance Ministry printer in 2010 to produce election materials for his campaign for parliament. American officials say he was also convicted of squandering public money by using 102 cars held in customs for his personal use.
Ghali’s lawyer had said that the cars had been impounded for customs duty violations, and that Ghali had given them not to family or friends, but to fellow ministers and his own deputies who were entitled to official cars, but whose cars were old and kept breaking down. The transaction had saved Egyptian taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds, Miller wrote.
She continued: “Diplomats say Ghali’s efforts to reform Egypt’s bureaucracy required creative maneuvering. In 2004, the Finance Ministry, with its 20,000 employees and $50 million budget, had almost no computers.
The ministry’s two word-processors were reserved for the minister’s office, which meant that Egypt’s budget, all 49,000 accounts of it, had to be calculated and consolidated by hand. No ministry knew the size of another’s budget, and the military liked it that way.”
“The revolution, with its insistence on Islam as the source of Egyptian identity, coupled with the military’s traditional hostility to Christians, does not bode well for secular, pro-Western activists like Ghali.”
“Until he was named finance minister, no Copt had ever risen to so high a civilian post in modern times. Even then, a few extremist Salafi sheiks issued fatwas denouncing his promotion: Islam prohibited putting Christians in charge of Muslim treasure, they opined.”
Miller wrote that many of the “most savage attacks on Ghali in the Egyptian press have directly or indirectly touched on his religion, implying that a Christian’s loyalty to Egypt may be questioned.”
Miller concludes: “Many Egyptians, friends say, are gradually acknowledging that those they have banished may not be corrupt, and that even if some of them are, Egypt’s poverty and income disparities cannot be mainly their fault.”
Seeking confirmation of Miller’s assertions, we sought the opinion of one of a widely respected Egypt scholar, Egyptian-born Samer Shehata, professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University.
Here’s what he told us:
“I read the article when it came out and it is filled with inaccuracies and distortions. For example, Ms. Miller claims that, until Ghali, no Copt had ever risen to such a high position. In fact, his uncle Boutrus was Foreign Minister under Sadat.”
Shehata concedes that “Ghali might not have been as corrupt as Ahmed Ezz (the billionaire steel tycoon who has emerged as perhaps the most hated symbol of the old system) but there is absolutely no doubt that he misused the 100 plus cars for personal use and advantage. We know this beyond doubt.”
Shehata continues: Ghali was part of a criminal regime justifying their actions, economic, political, etc. And although there were likely some bigoted reports about him in the press, the primary reason he is despised in Egypt has nothing to do with his religion (nor is it framed as such) but about his real estate tax plan, being part of the regime, and other more specific allegations.”
Shehata concludes: “Miller is hardly a serious journalist.”
Welcome back, Judy. Dick Cheney would be proud of you.
William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now writes on subjects ranging from human rights to foreign affairs for a number of newspapers and online journals.