Under the plan, approved by the cabinet of ministers on Wednesday, the share options could be paid off over a 20-year period, the official IRNA news agency said.

It said that the Ministry of Welfare and Social Security had been given two months to identify which families would be included in the share offer.

Further details were not given, but the plan appeared to be similar to one outlined by Tehran Stock Exchange chief Hossein Abdoh-Tabrizi in June.

Abdoh-Tabrizi had said that 14 million households would be offered an option to buy a basket of shares worth $11,050 each.

"This is a massive privatisation drive, an unprecedented sale of state assets to the people," he said.

Officials were not immediately available to comment on Thursday, the start of the Iranian weekend.

After several years of surging prices, Iran's stock market has struggled in recent months, hit by uncertainty over new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's economic policies and fears that Iran's nuclear case could be referred to the UN Security Council for sanctions.