The Revolution Will Be YouTubed: Syria's Video Rebels

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AFP / Getty Images

A video grab from Youtube shows a man throwing a rock at a passing tank in Dera'a, Syria on April 25, 2011.

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"Our generation has little possibility for self expression," says Adnan. "Try to open your own business here. See how many people you have to bribe, how many laws are unclear or non existent, how easily you can end up in jail with no evidence, just because somebody reported you. See what trust becomes in a society where everybody can report everybody, for money or revenge".

In the past few weeks, the Syrian army — with the help of the despised regime militia, the Shabbiha — has been setting up checkpoints around the country to hunt down what it calls "info traitors." It is the the heaviest deployment of tanks and armored personnel vehicles the country has seen in three decades. People have been taken directly from the streets in arbitrary kidnappings that belie the end of emergency law announced by President Bashar al-Assad to cabinet 17 April.

"So far, we are still here", says Adnan, charging his camera battery. As the most experienced of the group, he is teaching the others how to take good pictures which show landmarks and — where possible — provide evidence of the date of recording. "We are trying to navigate the information chaos created by the regime, a result of fear, state media propaganda and absence of any other voice".

The activists insist that theirs is not a sectarian agenda, despite the regime's attempts to portray them as Islamists. There is real cross-sectarian support for the protests, they say. They have a good case: represented among the activists working in the flat is the full cross-section of Syrian society — Sunni Muslim, Alawite, Druze, and Christian. The group even helped to disseminate a popular chant that has helped to minimize sectarian rifts: "One, One, The Syrian People, We are One."

Hassan, a younger activist hailing from Lattakia, is unimpressed at suggestions the Alawite minority is on the regime's side just because they are tied by religion to the ruling Assad family. "In the end, we are all Syrian. This regime is not Alawite, it's Al-Assad's regime, his private club and mafia. Even Alawites don't like it". And so he finds himself, an Alawite, fighting an uprising against an Alawite regime.

These young men — one day a group of friends, the next a network of activists — are new to the ideas of revolution, and it shows. "You can't call this a revolution," says Mohammed, "because it would require a theory. We haven't had access to free thinking and critical debates for decades, how do you expect us to elaborate a theory?"

Mohammed pauses to check the progress of a video upload, then looks up again. The light of the screen still flickering against his face, he says: "This is a struggle for change, made for the sake of freedom and human dignity."

This article was commissioned in collaboration with Meedan, a California-registered nonprofit that works to translate and amplify comment and analysis from the Middle East

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