The collapse of the Saudi state would have grave implications for the region and the world. As illustrated by Libya, Syria, and Yemen, state collapse creates a vacuum for radical jihadist groups to claim new territory.
What if Saudi Arabia collapses? Currently, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is pushing against the Saudi border with Yemen and the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) in Iraq and Syria poses a constant threat to the kingdom’s north. Thus, civil war, instability, and high levels of sectarian tension would likely be fertile ground for these groups to grow and expand their control, threaten the holy sites, and perpetuate regional instability.
Washington’s national security establishment has expressed concerns about turmoil escalating in Saudi Arabia if MBS’s reform agenda fails to achieve its objectives. Some see the kingdom at a crossroads and fear that the kingdom’s collapse would benefit the Islamic State. Regarding MBS possibly becoming the next king, one anonymous Saudi expert told NBC News, “It’s him or it’s ISIS.”
The attacks on July 4, 2016 in three Saudi cities (Medina, Jeddah, and Qatif) underscored the significance of the militant Salafist-Jihadist threat not only to the country’s security but also Al Saud’s prestige and Islamic legitimacy as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
The intended attack by IS adherents on the Prophet’s Mosque during the end of Ramadan signals the Islamic State’s intent to usurp the Al Saud much as the apocalyptic leader Juhayman al-Otaybi did when he seized the Grand Mosque in 1979.
“This attack has made it very clear that ISIS does not seem to believe in any moral red lines whatsoever,” said Fahad Nazer, a leading expert on Saudi Arabia. “Even al-Qaeda, which is certainly brutal in its own right, has never targeted Muslims in their houses of worship. ISIS has done that repeatedly.”
A civil war in the Arabian Peninsula would also challenge long-standing alliances. Instability, the threat to the holy cities, and the possibility of jihadist gains would encourage states with high stakes (Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Pakistan, U.S., etc.) to react.
In fact, UAE officials have even made contingency plans for a potential state collapse in Saudi Arabia, a risk which none of the kingdom’s neighbors can afford to ignore.
These states would certainly move to secure the holy sites and combat terror cells, but solving the civil war would be a massive challenge.
There would be considerable pressure to support the Saud family, but supporting the Wahhabi religious establishment over a reform movement would cause domestic complications in some of these countries that resent the kingdom’s influence across the region. Finally, Saudi Arabia as a failed state would send international markets into free fall.
State collapse in Saudi Arabia would halt oil production, significantly increasing the price of oil and dramatically weakening global economies. Such an increase would spark a severe global economic crisis.
The longer Saudi Arabia is destabilized, the more difficult it would be for the world to pull out of the crisis and recover. The socio-political ramifications of such an economic shock could be catastrophic and disastrous for both the region and the world.
If the government faces large-scale demonstrations calling for social and political liberalization while facing tribal, familial, and religious elite abandonment, the result could be instability, civil war, and/or state collapse. (023)
Ref.: “What If Saudi Arabia Collapses?”