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Some neighbourhoods are like barometers for their cities. Tensions surface first in these areas and they can hold pivotal roles in upending governments and instigating unrest. This is especially true in the Middle East. In Tehran, for instance, presidents go out of their way to keep the hardened men of the bazaar on side. In Damascus, merchants in the Old City often have powerful friends in government. While in Benghazi, police knew the trouble spots to head to when rioting started in February.

But Algiers’ casbah – a warren of 16th-century souks…


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