Alhurra Talks to Reps. Eshoo and Smith on Sectarian Violence in the Middle East

Alhurra’s Congressional Correspondent Rana Abtar conducted a series of interviews with members of Congress after a congressional hearing on the increase in sectarian violence in Iraq and Egypt.

The hearing, held by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission was prompted by the killing of at least 70 people last October during a siege on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad and the killing of 21 people by a suicide bomber outside a Coptic church on New Year’s Eve in Alexandria, Egypt. 

The interviews included Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Co-Chair of the Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.

Congresswoman Anna Eshoo said how strongly she condemns the targeting of minorities in the Middle East and spoke about her Armenian-Assyrian descent. Rep. Eshoo added, “I also feel that I have a responsibility and obligation as a member of Congress to cast light on this, and have other members understand it, and that the government that I serve and I am part of be part of the solution to this.”

Congressman Chris Smith said that the Egyptian government has to do more to stop the sectarian violence against the Egyptian Christian Copts.  Rep. Smith added, “There is no doubt that we need to do more . . . I raised this personally with President Mubarak when he was here in Washington and when I have been in Egypt, there is either under appreciation of the threat to Christians in general, and Copts in particular, but now the line has been crossed.  The jihadists have unfortunately committed heinous crimes against Christians and there is a need for tolerance everywhere, including and especially now in Egypt.”

Correspondent Rana Abtar also spoke with Tamara Coffman Wittes, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Tamara Coffman Wittes stressed the significance of the relationship between the United States and Egypt.  Ms. Wittes noted, “We have a longstanding partnership with the government of Egypt and also with the people of Egypt that is supported by our economic assistance as well as our military assistance.  There are a lot of interests we have in common we want to pursue together, so that is an important relationship.  Part of that relationship is speaking very frankly and honestly about concerns we have over human rights inside Egypt and that is something we do every day.”