Nostradamus of the Middle East or just a storyteller?

Michel Hayek, the man who last year foretold that Qatar, which recently won the 2022 World Cup bid, would excel in sports, admits his pet parrot sometimes makes better predictions

Michel Hayek has risen to the status of an Arab media celebrity making accurate predictions.
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As the world prepares to bid farewell to 2010 with celebrations of all kind performed on New Year's Eve, Arabs across the world will be turning to their TVs to watch a tradition almost 25 years on air.

Every New Year's Eve, on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International channel, the man nicknamed the "Nostradamus of the Middle East" makes predictions for more than an hour on what will happen in different countries next year.

"It is not magic, and I don't use any jinn or witchcraft. It is a sixth sense I was born with," said Michel Hayek. "It is a gift."

Predictions from last year are reflected on during the show - which of them came true and which didn't - and then Mr Hayek makes his predictions for the year ahead for the Middle East and major countries like the US and Russia.

One of the UAE 2010 predictions that will be hailed as coming true is how a "major terrorist scheme will be revealed in one of the emirates", believed to be referring to the assassination of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, a senior Hamas commander, in a Dubai hotel, apparently by Israel's Mossad.

He also predicted that the UAE economy will keep improving despite some minor shakes.

But it was predictions about Iran, and Qatar that will be highlighted as the most successful predictions.

"Qatar to excel in sports which draws big attention to it," he said last year. Earlier this month, Qatar won the right to host 2022 Fifa World Cup.

For Iran, he predicted "a security breach" that would expose the psychological warfare against Iran, a breach believed to be WikiLeaks, and how "the Iranian president will be facing trouble from within his own ranks".

"I can't make predictions for myself or on my life. They come sporadically as blurry visions and I have to sit and really concentrate to be able to note them down," said Mr Hayek, who takes a notebook wherever he goes.

He is also often seen accompanied by his pet parrot, Jacquo, better known as coucou, "who sometimes makes better predictions than I".

"I get really tired after a vision, and I need to be alone and rest," he said.

Mr Hayek, considered a kind of a recluse, rarely gives interviews or makes any other appearances throughout the year.

"People misattribute predictions to me and so I like to keep it focused and collect all the predictions and announce them all in one time in one place," he said.

The bulk of the predictions are made for his home country, Lebanon, with 2010 predictions including a skirmish on the borders between Lebanon and Israel.

"Despite the presence of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon and the Blue Line and the international resolutions, the area will witness ambushes by both the Lebanese and Israeli parties," he predicted. In August, three Lebanese soldiers and an Israeli officer were killed in the first serious border clash since the summer of 2006.

"I do a check at the end of each year to see what came true and what didn't, as a check for myself and to understand my visions better," said Mr Hayek.

Born to a local butcher in a village of Metn mountain northeast of Beirut, as a child Mr Hayek's predictions concerning his family and friends were not taken seriously. He is the only one among his two brothers and one sister with "this gift".

It wasn't until the early 1980s when he predicted the destruction of the US space shuttle Challenger that people started taking him seriously. "We all have this ability, but we don't use it nor we believe in it," he said.

The 43-year-old shot to stardom when, in 1997, he predicted the death of Princess Diana in a car crash and then in 2005 and 2006, he predicted a series of assassinations that would rock Lebanon. He said a "big attack in Beirut would rock downtown", and six weeks later, a car bomb in Beirut killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others, setting off protests in downtown that led Syria to end its 29-year military presence in Lebanon.

On a regular day, the businessman with investments in various ventures such as reconstruction of old homes and real estate, is often consulted by regional and international figures.

Some of his clients include the former US president Ronald Reagan, and Princess Diana. He warned that her life was in danger just four month before the car crash. He also warned prominent Lebanese MP and media baron Gibran Tueni about danger to his life, but his warnings were not taken seriously until Tueni was killed in a car bomb attack in 2005.

"I understand people having a hard time believing me, but I do my best and try to warn anyone I get a vision about," he said.

Mr Hayek just came back from a trip in Saudi Arabia, but kept a tight lip on who he met there.

He is quite aware that he is often the butt of local jokes, with columnists calling him a "phoney" and religious figures slamming him as a "sorcerer".

Around this time of year, close to his public appearance, e-mail spam starts going around using him in the subject.

One mocking e-mail read: "Attention, Michel Hayek predicted that a very weird and sudden thing is going to hit Beirut, specifically downtown, so avoid going down this weekend and pass this message to all your online contacts."

Mr Hayek takes it all in stride, and said he will keep predicating as long as the visions continue.

As for predictions for the UAE for 2011, Mr Hayek would not reveal anything until New Year's Eve.

"You will have to watch the show," he said with a laugh.

"And be prepared to be surprised."