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Iran: Except for the Mullahs and Fatwas, They're Just Like Us!


"Buy American" seems to be the slogan for Iranian consumers. While they get real Coca-Cola, Mars, and Procter & Gamble products, they have to make do with facsimiles for others.

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL Earlier this month, news that Apple (AAPL) computers were widely available in Iran, sanctions be damned, created quite the stir.

It is not a particularly new development; Iranians have long been able to get their hands on the gamut of American products, high tech and otherwise.

"We had iPad in Tehran less than a month after it hit the global market," a shop owner in Tehran told Reuters last year. He said the situation was "the same" for other brands, rattling off names like Dell (DELL), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), BlackBerry (RIMM), and Motorola (MSI).

It's easy to accept the idea of a few MP3 players or a bunch of laptops circulating in the Islamic Republic, unless those products end up being used in ways the manufacturer never intended -- a situation in which Tadano, Japan's largest manufacturer of cranes and lifting equipment, found itself last year.

According to non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, "Crane hangings are an especially slow and painful method of execution," and Iranians can be put to death for homosexuality, adultery, and "enmity against God."

"Fair trials for these offenses," says UANI, "are unheard of."

After Ambassador Mark D. Wallace, UANI's president, appealed to Tadano's CEO, the company pulled out of Iran, joining cranemakers Terex (TEX) (United States), Konecranes (Finland), UNIC (Japan), and Leibherr (Germany) in ending their business in Iran.

"Everyone Here is Thirsting for American Brands."

Iran imported $229 million worth of American goods in 2011. Butter topped the list, followed by bull semen. Insulin and artificial teeth also put points on the board, as did US-made salad dressing and toothpicks.

"Everyone here is thirsting for American brands; it's that simple," Tehran restaurateur Mehdi Mortazavi told the New York Times a few years back. "Iranian people respect American business, American mentality, Americans' demand to always have the best."

(That said, if Iranians can't get the "best," they appear to accept reasonable facsimiles in the meantime. Mortazavi, according to the Times, "is helping create Friday's, a restaurant in Tehran. The sign out front looks just like a T.G.I. Friday's in the States, with red and white stripes. But the 'T.G.I.F.' was dropped because Thursday is the last day of the work week here, and the reference to 'God' might not have gone over well. But there will be waiters with suspenders decorated with buttons, and Cobb Salad and hamburgers on the menu." And, in the absence of official KFC (YUM), Pizza Hut, and Starbucks (SBUX) outlets, Iranians have learned to make do with Kabooky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hot, and Starbox.)

"Iranian people are very different from North Koreans or Cubans," Farhad Alavi tells me. Alavi, a partner at Washington, DC-based BHFA Law Group, where he focuses on international trade issues including US sanctions laws and export controls, explains that Iranians' past (and continuing) exposure to the West is the basis for this.

Alavi points out that Iran "is not shut off from the outside, no matter how hard the government tries."

"The average Cuban citizen does not have the authority to travel, whereas Iranians are traveling every day," he says. "Relative to their wealth, Iranians probably travel more than Americans -- they may not be able to go to the US, but they can go to Turkey or Malaysia or Dubai. Iranians know what's going on; they know what's happening in the world. Iran is very subject to foreign culture, and it's a very porous country."

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