The BRICS and the MENA Region: Toward a Multipolar World Order?

By Aya Kamil | Rising Expert for the MENA Region | May 16, 2023 | Photo Credit: Flickr

For international observers, Brazilian President Lula Ignacio Da Silva’s visit to Abu Dhabi on April 15, didn’t go unnoticed. The discussion agenda with his counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), surveyed key geopolitical issues ranging from climate change to energy transitions and global security. While Brazil’s broader re-engagement in international fora since its most recent elections is worth analyzing on its own merits, Lula’s visit to the UAE in particular may signal a wider shift towards a global strategic re-alignment linking Brazil and the other BRICS (including Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries to the Middle East. It is also an indicator of an increasingly multipolar international system amid shifting U.S. regional focus and influence.

Notwithstanding the recent obstacles encountered by the United States in securing its oil supply in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are unabashedly implementing tactical measures placing their own strategic interests at the forefront, even if it means potentially inciting friction with their longstanding U.S. ally. With recent developments like the Iran-Saudi peace deal brokered by China and oil production cuts by the OPEC+ countries, the wider Middle East and North Africa could prove uniquely positioned to influence and benefit from a shifting multipolar world order. The regional rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh seems stronger than ever, with both set to open their respective embassies in each other’s capitals by May 9. In addition, a second iteration of oil production cuts in early April by Saudi Arabia, a leading OPEC+ member, made headlines by driving U.S. oil prices higher after previous production cuts. Kuwait and the UAE seconded this coordinated cut, describing it as a “precautionary measure” to maximize market stability. Neighboring countries followed the Gulf states’ lead, as Algeria and Iraq unveiled a “voluntary” drop of 48,000 barrels per day.

Riyadh’s lead on a non-aligned oil production strategy signals a wider regional trend toward geopolitical assertiveness, as well as America’s waning influence in the MENA region at large. Burgeoning multipolar dynamics in MENA extend beyond the energy portfolio. Climate issues, including adaptation efforts and high-end mitigation technology, make the MENA region and the Gulf states in particular coveted partners for international efforts on climate resilience and adaptation. The BRICS have been quick to make note of these developments.

For example, Brazil has recently displayed intense activity on the climate front by establishing a solid partnership with the UAE. Deemed “highly fruitful” by President Lula, his visit sealed numerous climate-related deals with the embedded goal to “encourage ambitious climate action” worldwide. Egypt’s hosting of COP27 and the upcoming COP28 in the UAE diverge from the co-optation of climate agenda discussions by the Global North. Bilateral negotiations mentioned Abu Dhabi’s support for Brasilia’s bid to host COP30 in Bélem. Next steps for the cross-pollination of the climate portfolio will include logistical and technical input from Abu Dhabi. The emergence of regional blocs, and active collaboration between these bloc leaders, is consolidating a non-aligned multipolar global architecture.

The multiplicity of stakeholders in the MENA region, including China, Russia and other BRICS members, and the recent diffuse engagement of the United States are tangible markers for a new multipolar reality. The enlargement of commonly held “American zones of influence” to new parties such as the BRICS points toward the ongoing transformation of the world order. 

Aya Kamil (she/her) is YPFP’s Rising Expert for the Middle East and North Africa. She is a 2022- 2023 James C. Gaither Fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.