Yes, you're reading it correctly: you can own your personal slice of infamous current affairs when you purchase the current Iranian regime!
This one-time offer includes President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei (not to be confused with the Ayatollah Khomeini, who died in 1989 but still earns decent dividends even after his…well, bond maturity date)—all at a starting bid of a mere $.99!
So, "why sell," you may ask? Well, my grandfather picked up stock in the regime while Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was in power, thinking he got a bargain in the heady days following World War II. Unfortunately, he made the purchase on April 27, 1951, the day before Mohammed Mossadegh was elected Prime Minister and everything basically went to pot for the poor Shah. Thus the value of my grandfather's stock plunged, and the stock all but fell to the OTC pink sheets with the nationalization of Iranian oil and the eventual overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953 at the hands of Western agents.
But being a "buy and hold" kind of fellow, my grandfather held on to the stock–and had he sold it on January 15th, 1979, the day before the now much-reviled Shah hightailed it out of Tehran under pressure of Shi'a revolutionaries, he'd of made a fat profit. As it was, the Iranian regime stock tanked once again as the underlying corporate backing switched under a hostile takeover, so he gave up and decided to put the stock in a trust in my name.
I took personal control of the stock in 1990, but with the Ayatollah's death a year earlier, replacement with a new Ayatollah from a third rate MBA program, asset reorganization following the disastrous Iran-Iraq war, and the U.S. buildup at the Iraq border, the stock continued to flounder. Things began to pick up when the pragmatic moderate Mohammed Khatami became President in 1997 (not to be confused with Mohammed Pahlavi or Mohammed Mossadegh–it's like being named "Mike" in the U.S.), but he and Ayatollah Khamenei never saw eye to eye, leaving regime stock flat in a narrow price range.
I had a glimmer of hope when the new Pres. Ahmedinejad was elected (say that fast five times). I really did, despite the confounding name. Yes, the fellow is an international relations buffoon, but he apparently did great things as mayor of Tehran in regards to public works and infrastructure–and Iran really needs someone with financial acumen at the helm. Besides, with his perpetual 5-o'clock shadow, tweed sports coat, and open collar wardrobe right out of the L.L. Bean catalog, how bad could he possibly be?
The first mistake of the rosy-eyed stockholder: I hoped for the best without due diligence, only to see uranium enrichment start at Esfahan, Ahmedinejad's call to wipe Israel off the map, violent shaking of a stick at the US… I mean, given Iran is all but surrounded by US and Coalition forces more than capable of turning Iran into a parking lot, I can understand the regime's paranoia. But come on, telling the world the Holocaust didn't happen? That's almost as bad as being Enron, but without hiding your accounting books. The reality is I have a short term investment horizon and holding stock in this flailing regime's just tying up capital.
To wait until the Keystone Clerics in Tehran make up their minds on pretty much the entire civilized world's demand to do away with their nuclear program would be damning to my bottom line. But to a new investor with a longer outlook and wanting to diversify on the cheap, investing in the Iranian regime may be the way to go. As a professional Middle East scholar, I think the top of Iran's corporate ladder will eventually be filled with more pragmatic moderates like Khatami–not to be confused with Khomeini or Khamenei–who are willing to combine Islamic law and philosophy with a vibrant international agenda, and thus freeing Iran from the shackles of a reasonably minded but poorly implemented strategic enterprise plan.
I'm sure you have many questions, so I've tried to brainstorm some potential queries and have prepared a FAQ for you to read at leisure:
Q. So let me get this straight… you own the Iranian regime?
A. Indeed. Yes, the fact this non-observant Christian white boy pwns–I mean, owns–the most notorious Islamic theo-democracy on the planet is an uncomfortable fact for Pres. Ahmedinedjad and Ayatollah Khamenei, sort of like having the uncle in prison the rest of the family doesn't discuss in front of the children (Pres. Khatami did ask me over for a backyard barbeque once. I couldn't make it, but he sent me a pic of himself in his new "Grillatollah" apron). Thankfully for them, though, my selling of this equity doesn't make their value fluctuate, so they still have access to whatever measly working capital they can wring outside of the embargo for road projects, schools, playgrounds, and pesky nuclear warheads.
Q. But the Shah isn't part of the current regime! Why is his picture on the certificate?
A. Just a soft spot for the old corrupt monarchy times! Plus, you just don't see bling like that on US military uniforms anymore…
Q. Do I actually get some physical proof of ownership? This sounds sketchy…
A. But of course! You receive a certificate of ownership, hastily built with MS PowerPoint, to include snazzy graphics of the religious city of Qom, the former Shah, and Pres. Ahmedinejad's smiling face offset by the Ayatollah Khomeini's dour countenance (not to be confused with the Ayatollah Khamenei, who should've died years ago but still clings to power), notarized by yours truly–in Persian Farsi, no less. As an added touch I'll even print it in color!
Q. New certificate? But what happened to the original one your grandfather owned?
A. That wrinkled old document? I sent it to Salman Rushdie following the death sentence Ayatollah Khomeini handed down for supposedly slandering Islam in his book The Satanic Verses. I figured Salman needed a little pick-me-up at that point.
Q. Why in the world would someone want to own such a two-bit, theo-loco regime?
A. Good question! To truly appreciate this investment vehicle you need to look past the boardroom to the rank and file employees. Iran gets beat up for her aggressive foreign policy stance and weird little quirk of basing their entire corporate foundation on the destruction of Israel, and rightfully so. But take that away, and you actually have the most vibrant Democracy in the Middle East.
That's right: Democracy. People vote in greater numbers than the US. Women vote, and hold office. Aside from thumbing their nose at the US, the congress (Majlis) actually formulates routine policy and makes things happen. When Pres. Rafsanjani and Khatami finished their respective terms, they didn't stage a coup–they returned to private life (although Rafsanjani still has his fingers in the pot in Tom Delay-esque style. The difference is he's still respected). Overall the simple fact Iran is a theocracy isn’t bad in itself; they just need to head more towards the middle politically and hire a better PR firm.
I dare say should some forward-thinking leaders take charge in Iran, do away with heated rhetoric and terrorism, and be more the good regional neighbor, Iran stands to explode economically, politically, and culturally. The sky's the limit for the long term investor!
Q. You sound so hopeful–what about the risks?
A. Just as with any investment, past performance are no guarantee of future results (although I certainly hope a new buyer gets a better APR than my decrepit returns). That said, read again about Iran, "exploding economically, politically, and culturally?" They could explode in a bad way–literally–should they continue on the path of a weaponized nuclear program…
Q. But isn’t the reason Iran’s angry with the West in the first place because all the regimes from the Qajar dynasty onward sold Iran’s resources, culture and spiritual identity to the West?
A. A valid point… but we’re talking my bottom line here, and I’ve got a front yard that needs resodding and I really must reupholster my 1971 Dodge Polara. Priorities, man!
Q. Want to sell your 1971 Dodge?
A. No, the Dodge isn’t for sale.
Q. How do you pronounce “Ahmedinejad?”
A. Ahmedinejad is pronounced aah-meh-DEE-neh-jad. In a pinch, you can also say, oh my GOD that hurts, in-aah-GOD-da-da-vee-dah, or, Gesundheit.
Q. What a minute, home slice… I thought selling people was against eBay policy!
A. It is, but you're not buying the people, you're buying the office–you know, like some special interest groups do. The people are merely the "gold standard" against which the office value floats (in this case, it's sinking; but never mind that for now). Thus the physical leaders and governments go, but the concept of the regime remains in place.
Q. In your mind, who's the perfect investor?
A. Let's see… once again, someone with long term goals, at the very least. A Middle East or Iranian scholar, or a University (UT-Austin has a robust Persian program). “Duke” from Doonesbury. Ted Turner (he seems to own everything else). King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (the house of Saud has always had a bone to pick with Iran). President Bush, perhaps, but he's got to balance short term speculation, as well. ExxonMobil Corporation, or British Petroleum (Beyond Petroleum, Big Pigeon, whatever they call themselves now). Someone with a likeminded sense of political humor. Hell, Iran could have an old fashioned stock buyback, but I’m not sure it’ll increase the price.
As a word of caution, aside from King Abdullah I highly discourage a Sunni investor. The socio-religious uproar might galvanize Iran and increase short term output and profits, but the whole Shi'a – Sunni schism just doesn't bode well for long term appreciation of this instrument.
Q. So you're donating 50% of the proceeds to the Red Cross, I see…
A. Indeed. Iran's government doesn't seem to remember that "The Great Satan" donated money and materiel following the 2003 Bam earthquake, but that won't stop me from doing my little part.
Q. But why only 50%, Mr. Stingypants?
A. Remember what I said above about resodding my lawn? To be able to do that on Iran's dime would be priceless.
Q. Starting bid of only $.99? Why so cheap?
A. Where am I, a mere U.S. infidel, to place a fixed value on a culture as old and vibrant as that of Persia? I'd rather float it IPO style to see what value the market places on this one of a kind investment. But you can buy it now for the not-so subtle price of $197,900!
Also, two words: Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.