(CNSNews.com) - President Obama ‘missed the point’ about the shooting deaths of Coptic Christians on Oct. 9 in front of the Maspero television building in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said Tuesday at a congressional hearing on the violence in Egypt.
Referring to a statement released by the White House on Oct. 10, the day after the shootings, Smith said the president Obama was wrong -- the shootings amounted to a one-sided “massacre” of Coptic Christians by government forces and were not just “sectarian violence,” as the White House seemed to portray them.
“With all due respect, the president seems to have completely missed the point,” Smith said. “This is not a situation of equal power and equal responsibility for violence. The Copts called on the military government to treat the Copts as equal citizens and protect their rights; the government itself turned on them with a massacre.”
Smith, the chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Egypt, posed a tough question.
“The time has come to ask, is this government going to be better than the Mubarak thug regime?’ Smith said.
On Oct. 9, 27 people were shot and killed during a demonstration by Coptic Christians at the Maspero television station in downtown Cairo protesting the current military government’s failure to investigate the burning of a Coptic church in Merina.
The shootings of unarmed civilians were allegedly perpetrated by members of the Egyptian military.
The following day, the White House press secretary released a statement in response to what has become known as the Maspero Massacre.
“The president is deeply concerned about the violence in Egypt that has led to a tragic loss of life among demonstrators and security forces,” the White House said on behalf of President Obama.
“The United States expresses our condolences to the families and loved ones of all who were killed or injured, and stands with the Egyptian people in this painful and difficult time.”
The statement added: “Now is a time for restraint on all sides so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt. As the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities - including Copts - must be respected, and that all people have the universal rights of peaceful protest and religious freedom.”
The Maspero building is about a mile from Tahrir Square, the site of the popular anti-government demonstrations that eventually toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in February of 2011.
Since that event, Coptic Christians have faced continued persecution from the Muslim majority in Egypt, according to testimony submitted at the hearing by Dina Guirguis, an Egyptian American democracy activist, attorney and member of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association (EARLA).
In 2011 alone, the Copts were the target of 33 sectarian attacks, 12 of which involved an attack on a church, Guirguis said.
“With the Maspero massacre, the death toll rises to 97, and the number of those injured exceeds 400. Compared to 2010, these statistics represent more than a six-fold increase in Christian casualties in 2011,” she added.
The hearing was conducted by the Helsinki Commission -- the Commission on Security and Cooperation.