What do Egypt's protesters want?
As Egypt's protests endure, there have been many anecdotal reports of Egyptian public opinion -- but no widespread surveying of what many Egyptians want.
Ideally, traditional polling firms would conduct rigorous surveys of the entire Egyptian population. In this period of unrest, however, that's difficult and hasn't happened.
The latest Pew Research poll of Egyptians dates back to December, well before the protests. And Real Clear World, a site that aggregates polls in addition to news stories, features statistics about Egypt from 2010.
But Google, which deployed its new media tool, Speak2tweet, last week to help Egyptians get around the country's Web crackdown, could use its technology to question at least one subset of Egyptians about their mindset -- who they really want in power and what type of society they desire.
Speak2tweet came to life days after the protests began, when Egypt began blocking its people -- the most Web-savvy in the Arab world -- from using Twitter.
It's a voice messaging service that lets people call a phone number to leave brief messages, which Google then links to from Twitter. A separate Twitter account, @AliveInEgypt, translates the Arabic messages into English.
Google has built a database of Egyptian protesters (there have been about 3,100 spoken tweets since Friday) that the company could query about their goals. Of course, this would be a biased polling sample.
Speak2tweet could come up with questions, which participants could choose to answer by leaving a voicemail, that establish which segment of the population the users of this tool represent. Are they mostly in their 20s? What do they do? How educated are they? What part of Egypt do they come from? How many days have they spent on the street protesting?
Then they might expand on what they seek -- economic freedom, political freedom, human rights, all of the above? Which do they prioritize? And, perhaps most importantly, whom would they like to lead their movement?
And maybe they'd even want to share their contact information, which would then provide journalists with a great pool of sources.
Policymakers would have to be cautious about just how much they relied on such data, constantly cognizant of where it came from. But, at the least, it would provide a direct link to a group of Web-savvy protesters, adding texture to our understanding of the many motivations that may be at work in Tahrir Square.
As President Obama said Sunday, Egypt will not return to the way it was:
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