WHAT DOES THE UNCERTAIN FUTURE HOLD? More and more Iraqis are using online fortune-telling services to find out

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s been a big increase in the number of Iraqis seeking solace from online fortune tellers and soothsayers.

By Sarah al-Qaher

Karawan Allawi used to go to her friendly neighbourhood fortune teller whenever she got the chance. When the world looked dangerous and grim, she says, his reassurances would alleviate her depression and fear. But thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, the old man had closed his doors, leaving the 20-year-old alone to face her fears.

“He was really the only person who gave me hope and promised me a brighter future,” Allawi told Al Menassa. “Because I haven’t been able to see him for about seven months, I have turned to websites and Facebook pages, hoping they might make up for his loss.”

Allawi explains how to request the service: “Your fortune is read on Facebook – but first you have to send IQD5,000 (about US$4) to the mobile phone of the owner of the Facebook page, telling them your name and your mother’s name,” she says. “I usually get an answer after an hour.”

Things don’t always go as planned, Allawi adds. “Sometimes after I send the money, they block me from their pages and I never get a refund. But somehow I can’t give up my obsession with fortune telling.  I feel that psychologically it does me good,” she argues.

Allawi is not the only one. In the past, fortune telling in all its forms – numerology, tarot, and the reading of coffee grounds and palms – was popular in Iraq anyway, particularly with local women. Now, with the uncertainty caused by the pandemic and the loss of many jobs, more Iraqis are turning to fortune tellers to try to assuage their anxiety about what comes next.

In particular, a lot of young Iraqis just don’t know what their future holds – there was already political unrest, now they may have lost their jobs or the pandemic has prevented them from marrying. So they will try and have their fortunes read before embarking on any new course of action.

Tabarak Jassim is one of these young people: She lost her job because of the pandemic and was forced to stay at home. Browsing social media sites in search of a new job, she found fortune tellers of all kinds on Facebook and YouTube. Now she says, she can’t turn away.

“Before I never had any time to listen or read all these predictions,” Jassim explains. “But now, I feel empty and a bit confused without any work. So I spend too much time on social media and find myself starting to believe what they say.”

On Iraqi social media, pages named after the fortune tellers – Sheikha Um Abdullah Al-Shammari, Sheikha Sanaa, Adnan Tarout, Taritiyoun and Al-Falak – are all popular. They can be found on Facebook, YouTube and other social media sites and they often rack up more than a million views, visitors and followers.

The owners of the pages post their e-mail addresses and even phone numbers online so that users can contact them directly. They broadcast videos and publish texts on a daily basis, in which they talk about astrology and other types of fortune telling. They also frequently respond directly to online enquiries from their followers.

Subscribers to the pages on social media are just as open, writing about their emotional issues or other problems. Popular subjects include love affairs or how to succeed at work or in one’s studies.

This is not just happening in Iraq either: According to the media analytics company, ComScore, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of followers flocking to all kinds of online fortune telling-style sites like Astro.com, Astrology Zone and others as well.

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