In an apparently coordinated public relations campaign, Friday Prayer Imams in Iran claimed that the country does not depend on oil exports very much and Gulf countries cannot replace Iranian exports sanctioned by the United States.
Mashhad’s prayer leader, hardliner Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda said during Friday Prayer on April 26 that “We depend on God, Islam, the Quran…and the prayers of the Supreme Leader; not on oil, mines, resources and international markets”.
Alamolhoda also claimed that not selling oil will not lead to any economic problems for Iran and it is possible to reduce Iran’s dependence on oil to 4 percent of the economy soon.
Prayer leaders in Shiraz, Tabriz and other cities also offered similar sermons, telling people not to worry about loss of oil income.
In recent years, Iran’s dependence on oil has been between 40 and 60 percent. In the current Iranian budget $24 billion of revenue is supposed to come from oil exports and this is roughly the amount the government needs to pay its employees and pensioners.
The United States on April 22 scrapped exemptions it had temporarily offered several friendly countries allowing them to buy Iranian oil for six months ending May 1.
Iranian exports, which had already dwindled to around one million barrels per day, are expected to go down significantly, leaving Iran with little foreign currency income to pay for essential imports and salaries.
In addition to that, unprecedented floods devastated large parts of Iran in March and April. Damages are estimated to reach $10 billion, with the government promising to reimburse millions of affected citizens.
The Imams in their sermons also claimed that Saudi Arabia and UAE do not the capacity to replace lost Iranian exports and the price of oil will climb to more than $100 a barrel. Oil prices jumped when the U.S. announced its decision to stop all Iranian exports. The benchmark Brent reached $75 after the U.S. announcement but then it retreated settling at around $71 on Friday, April 26.
The International Energy Agency, as well as most observers have reiterated that the global oil market is well supplied and the Persian Gulf Arab countries have spare capacity to make up for the absence of Iranian oil.
Friday Prayers in Iran have lost the popularity they once had in the 1980s and 90s, as most Imams routinely echo what the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or his representatives say. They are seen as part of the ruling establishment and not as independent religious leaders.
This was apparent again on April 26, as Alamolhoda referring to Khamnei’s past speeches said, “Our problem is with people whose belief in God…has weakened and the West has brainwashed them”. He added that Western influence has infiltrated into “political currents” and even state institutions, with each small U.S. move creating fear.