At first you might think you are in the office of a Silicon Valley tech company. There are flip cameras everywhere. Smart phones lie strewn about among computers and 3G dongles. A Wii game console has been abandoned on a shelf. But the sweet tea and thick cigarette smoke suggest otherwise. Tucked away in a popular neighborhood of Damascus in the shadow of Mount Qassioun, the parched ridge overlooking Syria's capital, this is the makeshift headquarters of Syria's video activists, and the young activists here are working late tonight.
Smiling, one of the leading figures in the room inspects his Kodak digital camera and then looks up. "This is my weapon," says Adnan, 33, appropriately enough for a technology enthusiast whose expertise in open source programming afforded him the opportunity to travel the world. Outside, a billboard offers a chilling insight into an Orwellian regime. "Freedom starts with awareness and not with ignorance," it says. "Freedom starts by complying with the regime".
Before the popular uprising which rocked this authoritarian country in the heart of the Middle East, Adnan enjoyed a lifestyle that was highly desirable by Syrian standards. "I earned good money through my tech work, traveled enough and made friends all over the world."
A career in technology is no small feat in a country whose relations with the West have been strained for decades. Sanctions imposed in 2004 prohibit American companies exporting goods to Syria if more than one tenth of their component parts were manufactured in the U.S. a restriction that has affected some basic web services and software such as Google's Chrome browser, RealPlayer, Windows Movie Maker and Microsoft Live Writer. Despite that, Adnan's instinct has never left him. "I was never interested in anything other than technology," he says.
He returns to his computer and uploads another video documenting Syria's uprising to YouTube. It is apparently recorded in Dara'a, the restless city in Syria's far south which has paid a heavy price for daring to rise up against the 11-year rule of Bashar al-Assad.
Reports suggest well over 100 people have died there as first heavily armed state security and more recently the army have fought to impose order, culminating in an audacious assault on the city's historic mosque. The regime has made its position clear: it will kill to stay in power.
Adnan learned this when he was hit by a grenade while filming in the outskirts of Damascus. The camera did not survive the ordeal, but luckily for Adnan he returned home unscathed. "I don't know for how much longer though", he says. "The secret service is engaging in random mass arrests. They know information is being put out, despite their control, and that's why they want to arrest everybody who goes out with a camera, a computer, or even a phone."