During the recent summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) economic bloc, convened in South Africa from August 22-24, 2023, it was announced that four Middle Eastern countries would be admitted to the group. While a number of countries from the region sought admission to the alliance, including Algeria and Bahrain, the Summit’s decision will only see Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to officially join BRICS on January 1, 2024. The expanded alliance of these Global South economies is primarily focused on the dynamics related to the global financial order and the pursuit of economic growth and sustainable development, but there are a number of other implications at play for the geopolitical landscape as well.
The expanded alliance is viewed by some as fundamentally being an anti-Western one. Even though it will likely seek to counter western countries’ dominance of economic agendas and markets, and to mitigate dependence on a dollar-based exchange system in the process, the three Arab additions to the bloc still maintain strong strategic and economic ties with the West. Notwithstanding, this membership will allow them to reduce their reliance on the West, in particular the United States. It also signals the strength of their ongoing and growing cooperation with countries like Russia and China, which have been engaging with the four newcomers in increasingly significant ways, including in the China-brokered diplomatic agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the Iranian support to the Russian war in Ukraine.
From a regional perspective, the four countries recognize the potential benefits of their forthcoming membership, whether due to political or economic motivations. These developments may not necessarily be perceived as provocative by the US, but they are likely to provide impetus to the US to further assess its apparent pivot away from the region, particularly in light of the major influence China is exerting in critical diplomatic, strategic, and economic domains across the Middle East. What impact, if any, the new BRICS alliance may have on matters related to defense and security cooperation of Middle Eastern states with countries within and outside the bloc, may become clearer in the lead up to their formal admission.