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Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran give BRICS economic boost, but won’t rival US leadership

Tangible economic benefits may be some distance away, experts say, but the symbolic benefit is joining an alliance separate from, or opposed to, Western interests.

The BRICS group of five emerging economies has offered membership to six more countries during its annual summit in Johannesburg last month. If they accept, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iran and Egypt would become the first countries in the Middle East and North Africa to join the bloc, alongside Ethiopia and Argentina, as soon as January.  

Comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the group represents 40% of the global population and a quarter of the global gross domestic product, but it has not moved in any set direction as drastic differences prevail in the economies of its members.  

More complicated than it looks

Michael Tanchum, nonresident fellow at the Middle East Institute, told Al-Monitor that BRICS has created an international public forum for dissatisfaction with the West and the United States in particular. But, he added, "It has yet to become an institutional force for an alternative economic or security order.” 

In the 14 years since it was created, BRICS’ only major achievement has been the establishment of the New Development Bank, also known as the BRICS Bank. Having added Bangladesh, Egypt and the UAE among its shareholders along with the BRICS members, the multilateral development bank has around $50 billion available, and it has approved loans of nearly $30 billion since its launch in 2014. 

Escaping sanctions became a uniting factor for BRICS, and one of the main reasons for expansion. The plan accelerated after Western sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. 

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