4 October 2023

Exploring the Implications: MENA’s Response to BRICS Invitations

Amidst a rapidly shifting global landscape characterized by the rise of multiple centers of power, the BRICS coalition’s decision to widen its membership horizon is a logical step, reflecting the potential transformation of the world order. Comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, BRICS serves as a counterbalance to the dominance of the G7, consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

During the closing ceremonies of the recent BRICS summit in South Africa, the group extended invitations to new members, with a significant focus on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Notably, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates received four of the six invitations, underscoring the intention to diversify and expand the bloc’s influence.

The driving force behind this expansion is the BRICS’ perception of an uneven global playing field, biased against their interests. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil articulated that future invitations would prioritize geopolitical significance over ideological alignment. This approach aligns with BRICS’ strategy to amplify its impact on the global stage, as evidenced by its recent selections from the MENA region.

The response from MENA countries to BRICS’ overtures varies. The United Arab Emirates has enthusiastically embraced the opportunity, recognizing the potential benefits for its financial interests. Similarly, Iran and Egypt are anticipated to accept the invitations, driven by their own economic considerations.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s response has been more measured. The kingdom is carefully considering the proposal, evaluating its strategic alignment with the United States while also acknowledging the emergence of influential players like China. Saudi Arabia’s well-established alliance with the US has shown signs of flexibility in recent times, and joining BRICS could signify another step in recalibrating these relationships.

Sami Hamdi, the managing director at International Interest, a Middle East-focused political risk firm, suggests that Riyadh will gauge Washington’s reaction and assess any offers from US President Joe Biden’s envoys before making a definitive decision. While Saudi Arabia’s entry into BRICS would undoubtedly mark a shift, it is unlikely to sever ties with its long-standing allies.

This development aligns with Saudi Arabia’s broader aspiration to not only maintain its regional leadership role but also to expand its influence on a global scale. Establishing stronger connections with China plays a crucial role in this ambition. According to Michelle Grise, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, the kingdom recognizes the value of deeper ties with China in achieving its global heavyweight objectives.

In conclusion, the BRICS group’s decision to expand its membership by inviting MENA countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, and the UAE underscores its commitment to reconfiguring the global geopolitical landscape. The pursuit of a more balanced and equitable international order drives this expansion, guided by the principle of elevating geopolitical importance over ideological allegiance. As countries in the MENA region contemplate these invitations, they weigh their economic interests, regional alliances, and the potential to participate in shaping the evolving world order.