By opening the door to new members, BRICS, the five-nation — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — group of emerging economies is inching towards its goal of having a stronger say in shaping the international order and acting as a counterweight to Western influence.
The bloc invited Egypt, Saudi Arabia, theUnited Arab Emirates, Ethiopia, Iran, and Argentina to join earlier this month. Welcoming the invitation, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said: “We value the trust bestowed upon us by all member states of the bloc, with whom we share robust ties, and we look forward to fruitful collaboration with them in the coming period, as well as with the other invited countries.”
Membership will take effect starting 1 January 2024.
Professor of political science Tarek Fahmi says BRICS membership will open up opportunities for Egypt on both the political and economic fronts. While an expanded BRICS will not change the world monetary order or establish a multipolar world overnight, by joining “Egypt is reserving an advance place in the strategic, economic, and security order of the world, thanks to its foreign policy and the presidential diplomacy it has recently adopted.”
Selecting Egypt to be among the first tranche of an expanded grouping signals BRICS’ members appreciation of Egypt’s role, argues Fahmi, while also underlining Egypt’s position in an emerging multipolar world.
Former deputy foreign minister Mohamed Hegazi believes Egypt’s successful application to join BRICS is partly due to the skillful way Cairo has cast light on disparities in development, support, investment, and trade in international forums.
Membership of BRICS, he says, will amplify Egypt’s voice in international negotiations over issues like migration, trade, debts, and the way international organisations like the IMF and the World Bank deal with Third World countries. “BRICS can offer an alternative development framework that aims for justice, partnership, mutual interests as well as freeing Third World countries from the vicious circle of loans offered by established financing organisations.”
Despite differences between the BRICS founder members, including border conflicts between China and India and Russia and China, the organisation may yet form an alternative UN, argues Hegazi.
On the bilateral level, membership will help Egypt strengthen its already good relations with member nations, especially Russia, China, and India. With Russia, Egypt enjoys a 2+2 meeting format between the Russian and Egyptian foreign and defence ministers, something that does not exist with the US despite the strategic relationship between Cairo and Washington, points out Fahmi.
Egypt has long maintained strong relations with Russia and India and has growing trade ties with China. Working together within the framework of BRICS is likely to strengthen these relations. And given that, from January, both Egypt and Iran will be BRICS members, their mutual relations, which have recently improved, will likely develop further in terms of trade, tourism, and development cooperation.
BRICS, adds Hegazi, expands its members’ horizons when it comes to resolving bilateral and regional problems and could impact on ongoing disputes between Egypt and Ethiopia and Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“BRICS can offer the strategic framework for cooperation rather than conflict,” he says.
The invitation to join the bloc was announced during last week’s BRICS conference in Johannesburg which was attended by the presidents of China, Brazil, and South Africa, the prime minister of India, and the Russian foreign minister.
BRICS was initially formed by four nations in 2009, with South Africa joining the following year. The bloc represents 23 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product and 42 per cent of its population.
In June 2023, weeks after Egypt’s membership of BRICS’ New Development Bank (NDB) was ratified, Cairo submitted a formal application to join the group. Under the NDB agreement, Egypt will contribute $1.196 billion in capital.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 31 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly