BRICS, a boondoggle of dictators, homophobes & outright misogynists.

LAST MONTH Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were invited to join a grouping of ‘top emerging economies’ known as BRICS dreamt up by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill. The only thing linking the bloc previously was their economic status. Nowadays, the addition of six new members, appears to add weight to the notion that the club is less an economic convenience than a means for these nations to escape pressure from Western values which emphasise elections and human rights.

While Argentina is a democracy, the other new additions are not. Ethiopia’s authoritarian one-party system has largely excluded the public from genuine political participation, while the UAE has been described as a “tribal autocracy” where the ‘seven constituent monarchies are led by tribal rulers in an autocratic fashion’. There are no democratically elected institutions, and there is no formal commitment to free speech.

Saudi Arabia on the other hand is an absolute monarchy. According to the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia, the country’s de facto constitution adopted by royal decree in 1992, the king must comply with Sharia law and the Qur’an. With neighbouring Iran competing as an oppressive theocracy called the “Islamic Republic,” with a religious “Supreme Leader” overseeing all aspects of Iranian life.

This month marks one year since Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the Iranian morality police, setting off mass protests. Authorities continue to quell any new unrest. UN experts in March expressed outrage at the deliberate poisoning of more than 1200 schoolgirls in Iran’s major cities by a regime intent on maintaining religious strictures against women who are forced to wear the Hijab.

Despite the threat of arrest, millions of Iranian women actively oppose the hijab, wearing it loosely around their heads or on their shoulders.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Saudi Arabia face severe repression and legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. LGBT rights are not recognized by the government of Saudi Arabia. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal. In Iran, LGBT face the death penalty. In Ethopia homosexuality is criminalized under the country’s penal code,

The newcomers for the most part lack universal rights for minority groups. In Saudi Arabia, Jews are restricted from practising their religion in public and the country bans non-Muslims from entering the city of Mecca.

In contrast, Iran’s Jewish community is officially recognized as a religious minority group by the government, and, like Zoroastrians and Christians, are allocated one seat in the Iranian Parliament.

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