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What's behind Erdogan's flurry of activity on Taksim mosque?

As construction on Istanbul's controversial Taksim mosque project begins with sudden urgency, the lack of public reaction may signal an important message.
Istanbul's Mayor Kadir Topbas (C) delivers a speech during the groundbreaking ceremony of Taksim mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal - RTSZ48V

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made two promises that were especially significant to his supporters: He would open the Hagia Sophia as a mosque and build a mosque in Taksim Square. Now he is delivering on one of them.

On Feb. 17 in Taksim Square, the heart of Istanbul, officials held a ceremony to celebrate the launch of the Taksim mosque construction project. The mosque is expected to open for service during Ramadan in 2018 (mid-May to mid-June). Conservative segments of society have sought the mosque since 1968, as Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas explained during the groundbreaking ceremony. Despite serious fears of protests, none materialized. In fact, there was only a small crowd cheering for the project that’s the crown jewel of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). It was indeed a low-key event, with more police and workers present than spectators.

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