Much of the capital is boiling over with stifled anger at 20 years of police-state repression. But the Casbah, in the heart of Algiers, is strangely quiet, the ancient stone alleys empty in the glare of the sun.

There is no need for demonstrations in the historic district to underscore the dead hand of the state. It is evident all around.

Ruins punctuate the beguiling maze of whitewashed buildings that cascade down the slope to the Mediterranean, where Renoir said he had “discovered whiteness,” and Guy de Maupassant found a “city of snow under dazzling light.”

Even before revolution convulsed Algeria this year, a new plan to save the Casbah from its creeping decline was in trouble, offending some for its invitation to the French, the former colonizers, for help in saving the Ottoman-era district.

With Algeria’s current political upheaval, and the uncertainty and further paralysis it is inflicting on the government, it will probably be even harder to realize that plan. In the meantime, the Casbah decays.

Every stage of urban ruin is visible in this neighborhood, packed with some 50,000, mostly poor residents yet nearly empty of the elements that have helped save historic districts in less closed-off countries — tourists, restaurants and museums.

Boulem Debbagh stood on a recent day in the ornate Ottoman doorway of a whitewashed house he said his family had occupied since the 1830s.

“They’ve done nothing since Boumediène,’’ he said, referring to the president who died in 1978. A donkey passed, collecting the garbage. The alleys are too narrow for any vehicle. ‘‘It’s been all just blah-blah-blah.”

During Algeria’s war of independence from France, which ended in 1962, the Casbah played a critical role as a place to organize and hide insurgents.

At independence, the poor fled for the more modern neighborhoods abandoned by the departing French.

The ultranationalist, modernizing Algerian government had little interest in the neighborhood, founded in the 10th century.

“They’ve had no sense of culture or heritage,” said Ali Mebtouche, head of the Casbah Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the Casbah.

It did not help that Islamists infiltrated the Casbah during Algeria’s brutal civil war of the 1990s.

Today, nearly a third of the Casbah’s 18th- and early 19th-century buildings have fallen into ruin, “and the rest are crumbling,” said Mr. Mebtouche, who is a veteran of Algeria’s war of independence and was born there.

Underscoring the district’s fragility, a building in the lower Casbah collapsed last month after heavy rains, killing five members of a family who were squatting in it.

International efforts to save the neighborhood have been limited, for fear of further offending the prickly Algerians. Intensely nationalistic, the government for decades has been reticent about seeking outside help of any sort.

The honor and serving of the latest operational research on Algeria, Algiers and Future, continues. The World Students Society thanks author and researcher, Adam Nossiter.


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