Greek Government caves in to pressure to build a mega-mosque in Athens

A CONTROVERSIAL plan to build a mega-mosque in Athens – at taxpayers’ expense – was given approval last week

The move, according to this report, was driven by the fear of an uprising by thousands of Muslim residents of the city. Rather than face a violent situation, the Greek Parliament voted on September 7 to meet Muslim demands for the mosque. The vote as supported by 198 out of 300 deputies from the left, right and centre.

Angry Muslims pictured at a protest in Athens

The plan commits the Greek government (by way of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs) to pay for the construction of a temporary mosque which will be built within the next six months. A larger 1,000 square meter (3,300 square feet) mosque with enough space for 500 worshipers at a time will be built in the same area by the end of 2012, at an estimated cost of around €16 million ($21 million).

Analysts say the Papandreou government is pushing the mosque project out of fear that Muslim demands will become violent sooner rather than later.

Like many other European cities, Athens has experienced Muslim-related violence in recent years. In May 2009, for example, more than 1,000 Muslims clashed with police in downtown Athens after Muslims accused a police officer stepping on a Koran at a coffee shop during a police check.

Nearly 50 protesters were arrested during the uprising, while seven Muslim immigrants and seven policemen were hospitalized. More than 70 cars were torched and around a dozen businesses were destroyed in the clashes. A day earlier, an even larger crowd of around 1,500 Muslim immigrants rallied before the march degenerated into violence. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Muslims say the violence proves they need an official mosque. But recent polls show that more than half of Greeks are opposed to the mosque plan and say their government should not be financing religious institutions.

The announcement comes as massively indebted Greece battles a growing recession that has left nearly one million Greeks out of work. Greece recently needed a €110 billion ($146 billion) three-year bail-out package to rescue the embattled economy from bankruptcy.

Officially, Greece has a Muslim population of around 500,000, mostly of Turkish origin. But in recent years, tens of thousands of Muslims have migrated to Greece from Africa, the Maghreb [North Africa], the Middle East and Central and Southeast Asia.

Many of the estimated 200,000 Muslims living in Athens are illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria and Pakistan.