Algerians see hope for their future in glory of the past

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ORAN, Algeria -- An Ottoman-era bathhouse is an unlikely symbol of Algeria's future, yet that is how the young people who have spent four painstaking years restoring the old building's intricate brickwork regard it.

In a country where more than a million people died in the fight that ended 132 years of French rule in 1962, and more than 150,000 were slaughtered in a brutal decadelong campaign by Islamist extremists, shifting rubble and restoring old buildings is not simply an exercise in archaeology. It's an effort to educate and reconcile future generations with their tortured past, in the hope they may steer this oil-rich North African nation out of its troubled present.

"Our young people do not receive an Algerian education. In school they learn about Arab history. On television they watch Western films," said Kamel Bereksi, head of Sante Sidi el Houri, a nongovernmental organization that is working to restore heritage sites in the western port city of Oran. "We work in the poorest suburbs, where the Islamists think they can have their way. We aim to give young people a sense of national pride, to ground them in this country so they can see a future in Algeria."...

"Algeria has oil and gas, so the government has traditionally not been very interested in developing tourism, but we are working to change that," said Abdeslem Abdelhak, a former journalist who is now one of Algeria's first tour guides. "We want to develop cultural tourism to oppose the narrow view of history being pushed by the Islamists."

Youssef Boualassel is a tour guide at Bastion 23, a military fort on the edge of Algiers' Kasbah, the Old City founded in medieval times by Spanish invaders. He says many tourists, including Algerians themselves, share that narrow view.

"Security was a problem in the early '90s, but now it is more under control," said Boualassel. "There is a huge potential here, but mentalities about Algeria have to change. Foreigners believe they should never set foot in the Kasbah, but now the only reason you need a guide for the Kasbah is so you don't get lost, not for security."

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