Erdoğan wants West to see him praying at Hagia Sophia - analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is ascribing a great deal of significance to Hagia Sophia’s reopening ceremony on Friday, when he wants the world to see him reclaim the former seat of the Roman Empire in another step toward his “Caliphate”, wrote Giulio Meotti, Italian journalist who focuses on the Middle East.

For Turkey’s strongman, the decision to reconvert the Hagia Sophia, built in the 6th century as a Byzantine cathedral, represents a second reclaiming of the monument following the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman Empire in 1453, Meotti wrote in the Israel National News.

On July 10, Turkey’s highest administrative court annulled a 1934 decree that converted the Hagia Sophia from a mosque to a museum, reverting it back into a mosque, much to the protest of Western governments and institutions.

Workers in Istanbul have rolled up their sleeves to prepare the iconic structure for its first Muslim prayers in decades for July 24, in a ceremony attended by Erdoğan and state dignitaries.

“Erdogan will want the Western world especially to watch closely,” the article quoted Selim Koru, analyst at Turkey's Economic Policy Research Foundation, as saying in the New York Times.

The transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque is strong symbolic act by Erdoğan, according to Algerian novelist Boualem Sansal, which will have significant effects in years to come.

“Istanbul will become the centre of the Muslim world, and Hagia Sophia will dethrone (Egypt's) Al Azhar and infuse new energy into the Muslim world,’’ Sansal said.

Critics have long accused the leader of Turkey’s Islamist Justice and Development Party of promoting a pan-Islamist, neo-Ottoman ideology, evidenced by his advocacy of issues pertaining to the Muslim ummah and the more recent military presence in former Ottoman lands.

“Today no European leader stands up to Erdoğan, everyone fears him and does everything to please him,’’ the Algerian novelists said.

The same Western indifference, which marked the fate of Constantinople in 1453, remains a threat in the face of an Islamist takeover today, Meotti said.