2037: The Saudi Civil War
Saudi Arabia, once a regional powerhouse, collapsed before the mid-point of the century. While the monarchy in Riyadh had once been able to successfully repress all opposition to its reign, a variety of factors weakened its hold on power.
Saudi Arabia was running on borrowed time for decades by the time it collapsed.
For one, the kingdom was a rentier state: state-owned companies extracted oil, made a profit on the international market, and funneling that money into domestic powerholders to satiate complaints against the regime. A rentier state, of course, needs to continue making profit to survive. As the demand for oil declined in the second quarter of the 21st century as alternative fuel sources became cheap, Saudi Arabia needed to diversify.
Because of the nature of the Saudi economy, nearly half of the country’s citizens did not work and were not looking for work in the year 2037. Dependent on dwindling government support and too proud to join the Saudi workforce (which consisted of a large number of foreign workers from South Asia), these unemployed masses had both the time and motivation to take up arms against the government, if it stopped supporting them.
As a rentier kingdom,
the Saudi royal family held all key positions in government and most key positions of power in the country. Any king would be challenged by a large number of possible rivals. This was especially the case for King Muhammad bin Salman, who ascended to the throne in 2025. The first grandson of King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud) to hold the throne, King Muhammad faced a legitimacy crisis despite his efforts to purge all rivals to his power.
There was also the issue of religion. Since its very beginnings, Saudi Arabia was based off an alliance between the Saudi royal family and the ulema
clerics, led by the Wahhabi Grand Mufti and his Al Ash-Sheikh
religious family. At times, Saudi kings had tried to limit the power of the clerics—claiming the power to appoint the Grand Mufti and the Council of Senior Scholars, for example—but clerics had always been a source of conservative agitation against the government.
Saudi Arabia also had a large minority of Shia Muslims, who were discriminated against as second-class citizens in the Sunni-controlled country. The Shia, who made up a large portion of the population in the east (where most of the oil was) and the southwest (on the tumultuous border with Yemen), were also a source of agitation against the government.
The Saudi royal family was well aware of these issues. In the early years of his reign, King Muhammad bin Salman sought to bolster other areas of the economy, chiefly technology and trade. He also sought to replace declining oil revenues with international investment, but in order to do that
, he needed to modernize the country: he brought women into the workforce, granted noncitizens special legal privileges, and decriminalized adult alcohol consumption. In the political realm, he granted a 2/3 veto power to the Consultative Assembly
and created a lower house to be elected throughout the counties (though parties were still banned, and the king still held significant legislative powers). At the centerpiece of King Muhammad’s modernization plans was Neom
, an urbanization project in the northwest of the country which included construction of a 100-mile linear city stretching from the coast through inland mountains—with a price-tag in the 100’s of billions of dollars.
King Muhammad’s modernization agenda was celebrated by the country’s progressives and its international allies. However, the conservatives of the country, led by the Council of Senior Scholars
and the Grand Mufti were a constant source of whispered objections. Seeking to satiate the clerics and conservatives, King Muhammad returned to beating the dead horse of Yemen. In a series of military campaigns, King Muhammad created a Saudi puppet-state in Hudaydah, western Yemen—which failed to garner international recognition and became a drain on Saudi Arabia’s resources.
Saudi Arabia’s meddling abroad, however, only served to anger the country’s large Shia minority, inciting a state suppression campaign. Those Shias in Saudi Arabia’s southwestern region had cross-border connections with the Zaidi Shias of Yemen and took to the streets to protest King Muhammad’s war. In Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, Shias too protested. These protests, however, died down and failed to attract international intention.
As the Yemen disaster drained the country’s national bank, raised taxes, and shook the country, the Consultative Assembly
voiced its objections to the King—who promptly suspended the lower chamber. Leading critics fled to Qatar and Iran. With his authority waning, however, King Muhammad sought to reclaim the loyalty of his country by going after the clerics, who had shut up as of late but might soon turn on him too. He abolished the position of Grand Mufti (as his uncle had done in 1969) and began issuing fatwas
of his own from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Grand Mufti Muhammad Al ash-Sheikh, not wanting to be assassinated, found refuge in Qatar, though continued to whisper support to the country’s Salafists.
Briefly, it seemed as though King Muhammad had solidified his rule. Elections were held again for the Consultative Assembly, with loyalists again winning the supermajority, while Shia protesters returned to their quiet grumblings.
A series of events in the second half of the 2030’s changed that.
- 2036 Israel-Lebanon War: Israel launched a war against Islamist-controlled Lebanon, forcing the Islamist Group and Hizbullah into exile. While Israel’s war was controversial in the rest of the world (the ruling Islamist Group was considered a terrorist organization by the West), it was despised in the Muslim World, triggering widespread protests and riots. Many Sunni states, who had pragmatically made alliances with Israel and mostly turned a blind eye to the war, were confronted by religious conservatives who demanded action. This left lasting legitimacy issues for many regimes in the Middle East.
- Whistleblowers revealed the Neom Project’s vast corruption, mismanagement, and abuses of workers during the past decades of the project. While King Muhammad attempted to censor news of the misspent hundreds of billions, he failed to cease its spread.
- Revolutions of 2037: Over the course of a few months, massive protests proliferated across the Arab world. Their origins began in Egypt against the regime of President Muhammad Farid Hegazy, which ultimately led to his assassination in a military coup. In Morocco, protests forced King Muhammad VI out of power, leaving the parliament to declare a successor. Major protests also erupted in Jordan against King Hussein II, and in the UAE where South Asian workers marched to demand greater rights.
With the Muslim world again rising in revolution, those in Saudi Arabia who were dissatisfied with the status quo—from modernizers to Shias to Salafists—took to the streets as well.
Here's the map at the peak of fighting, in May of 2039. At this point, the rival King Khalid has lost his legitimacy and is facing a widespread Islamist revolt, centered in Buraydah and 'Unayzah. Meanwhile, anti-Saudi rebels have claimed Ha'il, Military City, and Jiddah. Shia revolutionaries are expanding in Dammam and Khamis Mushayt, while Neom has fallen to a workers' revolt. The government of King Muhammad is beginning to rely on foreign aid for its survival -- the allied Gulf states, as well as Jordan, Iraq, and the United States.
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And here's a video of the course of the whole civil war. Make sure to get full screen / hd so you can see the city names.