The proposed construction of a mosque in Athens has placed Greece’s ruling parties at odds with one another, after junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL) voted against a legal amendment proposed by the left-wing SYRIZA.
Lawmakers from Defence Minister Panos Kammenos’ far-right ANEL party voted against the amendment in a parliamentary meeting on Tuesday night.
The disagreement marks the first rift to occur in the coalition between SYRIZA and ANEL since the two parties united to form the country’s new government after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was elected in January.
ANEL and neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn have consistently opposed the building of the mosque in the Athens district of Votanikos, with ANEL lawmaker Stavroula Xoulidou calling the project “unacceptable and provocative.”
Greece’s general assembly last year rejected an appeal after deciding to block the project despite plans to award a consortium a $1.292 million contract to build the mosque being approved in late 2013.
The meeting of consortiums in Athens in December 2013 for the construction of the mosque was met with protests from about 700 supports of the Golden Dawn party. One protester caused a panic when he drove his minibus into the building.
Athens, once home to a large native Muslim population during the Ottoman era, is currently the only major capital in the European Union that does not allow the construction of a place of worship for its Muslim community.
While many mosques in Athens were destroyed following the Greek war of independence in the early 1800s and the population exchange between Turks in Greece and Greeks in Turkey as part of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, one former mosque today serves as a museum in the popular Monastiraki district.
The Ottoman government tried and failed to fund the construction of a mosque in Athens in 1851 and 1890, while Egyptian efforts to establish a mosque in 1934 were also futile.
Greece again failed to provide a mosque for Muslim visitors to Athens during its hosting of the Olympic Games in the year 2000.
Turkey has been one of the more outspoken supporters of the Athens mosque project, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan telling former Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras Turkey could cover its expenses if necessary permissions are granted during a meeting between the two in Qatar in January 2013.
President Erdogan, who was then Prime Minister of Turkey, also said at the time that Turkey would in turn reopen the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary on the Turkish island of Heybeliada in the Marmara Sea.