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Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt among 6 nations set to join BRICS economic bloc

Russian President Vladimir Putin on screen making address via videolink
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the BRICS summit via videolink in Johannesburg.
(Jerome Delay / Associated Press)
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Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are among six countries set to join Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa in the BRICS economic group next year, the bloc announced Thursday, a move that will likely throw more scrutiny on Beijing’s political influence in the Persian Gulf.

The United Arab Emirates, Argentina and Ethiopia are also set to become new members of BRICS in 2024.

BRICS was set up in 2009 as a group of emerging market economies and has become one of the leading voices for more representation of the developing world and the so-called global south in world affairs.

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It currently represents around 40% of the world’s population and more than a quarter of the world’s GDP, although that is set to increase with the new members, which include three of the world’s biggest oil producers in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran.

Recently, questions have been raised whether BRICS is taking an anti-West turn under the influence of China and Russia amid Beijing’s deteriorating relationship with Washington and Moscow’s stand-off with the West over its war in Ukraine.

Mohammad Jamshidi, the political deputy of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, called the decision to add his country “a historic move.”

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“A strategic victory for Iran’s foreign policy,” Jamshidi wrote on X, the website formerly known as Twitter. “Felicitations to the Supreme Leader of Islamic Revolution and great nation of Iran.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose country presently chairs the group, made the announcement of the six new members on the final day of the bloc’s summit in the financial district of Sandton in Johannesburg.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are attending the summit and were present alongside Ramaphosa for the announcement.

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“This membership expansion is historic,” Chinese leader Xi said. “It shows the determination of BRICS countries for unity and development. ... Over the years, China has stood in solidarity with developing countries through thick and thin.”

China’s exports tumbled by double digits in July, adding to pressure on the ruling Communist Party to reverse an economic slump.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin did not travel to the summit after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him in March over the abduction of children from Ukraine. He has participated in the summit virtually, while Russia was represented at the announcement in Johannesburg by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The five current members agreed at this week’s summit to expand the bloc after two days of talks, although Ramaphosa said the idea of expansion had been worked on for more than a year.

While Saudi Arabia had been touted as a likely new member if the five current BRICS members reached a consensus on expansion, Iran’s inclusion had been viewed as possibly politically problematic. China and Russia pushed for expansion, but Brazil, India and South Africa, which have strong bilateral ties with the U.S., gave their approval only more recently.

The current members agreed on the final details of expansion after two days of talks in Johannesburg, although Ramaphosa said the idea had been worked on for more than a year.

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The BRICS leaders began their talks in Johannesburg on Tuesday night and were locked in discussions most of the day Wednesday, thrashing out the final details. BRICS is a consensus-based organization and all members have to agree on policies.

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It’s the second time that BRICS has decided to expand. The bloc was formed in 2009 by Brazil, Russia, India and China. South Africa was added in 2010.

In an online message, UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan welcomed the announcement that BRICS would include his nation in “this important group.”

“We look forward to a continued commitment of cooperation for the prosperity, dignity and benefit of all nations and people around the world,” Sheikh Mohammed said on X.

Until recently, the inclusion of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the same economic or political organization would have been unthinkable in recent years amid escalating tensions following the collapse of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and a series of attacks attributed to the country since.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic receded, the UAE was first to re-engage diplomatically with Iran after missile attacks on Abu Dhabi claimed by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels of Yemen.

In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran announced that they had reached a separate detente with the UAE with Chinese mediation. China has also sought closer relations with all three nations, particularly Iran, from which it has imported oil since the collapse of the nuclear deal.

Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE also have maintained relations with Russia despite Moscow’s war on Ukraine, much to the chagrin of the U.S., which long has provided security guarantees for the major oil-producing nations.

Brazil’s president has proposed the creation of a regional trade currency to rival the U.S. dollar as he hosts a regional summit.

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Egypt President Abdel Fattah Sisi said in a statement that his country would cooperate and coordinate with the rest of the members to achieve the bloc’s aims in economic cooperation and to “raise the voice of the Global South.”

The news was also a major boost for Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country and one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent, as its government works to re-engage with many global partners and financial institutions after a devastating two-year conflict in the country’s Tigray region ended last year.

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The war caused billions of dollars of damage, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, under pressure from the U.S. and European Union, has turned to other partners such as China, Russia and Gulf nations for support.

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