Tired of failed forecasts about their country’s bitter conflict that has left more than 60,000 people dead, some Syrians have turned to fortune tellers and astrology to try to predict what lies ahead.
Nearly two years into the fighting, many have lost faith in political analysts and claims by parties on both sides of the conflict, who frequently promise that victory is near.
A group of well-off Syrians gathered in a Beirut restaurant found solace in what famed Lebanese medium Maguy Farah told them in a private seance.
“What will our country’s future be?” asked one businessman, who longed for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Assad will leave in March,” Farah told the group.
“Many merchants have abandoned their businesses, and their horizons are empty,” a Syrian businesswoman guest of Farah who identified herself as Mona told AFP.
“When a fortune teller gives them a reading about Syria’s future, they feel they can work again.”
After decades of stability, Syria’s war has ravaged much of the country, struck the economy hard and turned everyday life into a struggle for survival riddled with uncertainty.
“Syrians do not like living in uncertainty,” said Mona.
Just as the country’s crisis has divided much of Syrian society into pro- and anti-regime camps, astrologers’ contrasting predictions reflect the split.
In Syria’s neighbour Lebanon, which was dominated politically and militarily for nearly 30 years by Damascus, television astrologer Michel Hayek predicted the fall of Assad in his latest annual reading on anti-Assad channel MTV.
Hayek, the country’s most famous astrologer, wrongly forecast the toppling of the regime in 2012. This year, he said that women and members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect will play an important role in Syria’s future political life.
Mike Feghali, who works for pro-Damascus Lebanese broadcaster OTV, disagreed with Hayek. Assad, he predicted, “will remain strong. He will not fall.”
Feghali’s popularity soared when history proved him right after he predicted former prime minister Rafiq Hariri’s 2005 assassination.
In 2013, Feghali said, much of Syria will be “mostly calm.” But violence in the central city of Homs, dubbed “the capital of the revolution,” will continue, he added.
“A drowning man will clutch at a straw,” said a journalist from Damascus, who said she has developed an “obsession” with astrology.
“In this crisis, it is unsurprising that books about esoteric subjects have become more popular,” she added, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity.
In early 2012, an astrologer said “black smoke will rise from the presidential palace, followed by white smoke, symbolising good news — the fall of the regime,” said the journalist.
“Even my father, who never in his life listened to clairvoyants, has waited, like many Syrians, to see if this prophecy comes true,” she added.
A 27-year-old lawyer in Damascus said she watches everything astrology-related she can on television.
“With all the darkness around us, we need hope. Astrologers give us that,” said Randa.
Listening to Hayek’s predictions, “my heart started to beat very fast,” said Ayman, a refugee who has sought shelter from his strife-torn country in Beirut.
But it is no surprise that viewers find the comfort they seek in predictions that typically correspond with the political orientations of the television station.
“Television executives in Syria and Lebanon tell astrologers to broadcast predictions that will make audiences feel good,” said Rostom Mahmud, a Syrian journalist and researcher living in France.
Syrian novelist Maha Hassan, who now lives in Paris, said she relies instead on the intuition of close friends to try to figure out what the future holds.
One Egyptian friend, she said, predicted the fall of Tunisia’s former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
“But deep down I know that no one can predict the critical moment, and I also know that all important events in life happen suddenly, and beyond all expectations,” she said.