Public opinion is the expression by a large group of people of their views on a specific issue. This group of people makes this expression either voluntarily or on invitation. It is an expression either in support or in opposition to a specific condition, person or proposal of importance to the public. The percentage of people expressing their opinion and their persistence affects the way they act on the issue under discussion, according to American psychologist Floyd Henry Allport.
Public opinion is also the culmination of thoughts, beliefs and attitudes of individuals and groups on social institutions and those who affect the formation of these institutions. It can affect a group of individuals at the local or international levels, as Dr Ismail Ali sees it.
Does public opinion play the role in the Arab world it plays in other parts of the world where institutions are in control? The answer to this question is known in advance. There is a noticeable absence of personal freedom and intellectual independence in the Arab world. Arabs practise self-censorship. There is no real separation of powers. The civil society is ineffective against increasing oppression, suppression and direct and indirect despotism.
This is one reason why people in power always feed the public wrong or inaccurate information and deceive them to serve specific agendas. Finding out public attitudes in these conditions is always a tough mission, particularly in the absence of surveys conducted by objective and credible institutions. These surveys can help find out what people in each Arab country think about different issues, particularly those that affect their future.
Despite the fact that public opinion in general is absent in the Arab world because of lack of freedom of speech, new and social media provide an insight into the public mood, even though these media have been infiltrated by the authorities. In the new and social media these agents of those in power can be easily uncovered.
We need to believe in the importance of freedom of speech, which forms the cornerstone of public opinion. This freedom is not meant to please some people; it is meant to make others angry. If public opinion or the opinions of others are different from our opinion, it should not make us angry. However, governments in the Arab world are not yet able to reconcile themselves to it.