De-Theocratizing the State? The Debate over the Civil State (Dawla Madaniyya) Model in Saudi Arabia

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Since the Arab uprisings, the ambiguous notion of a civil state (dawla madaniyya) has been gaining a foothold in many Arab states as the ideal state model, at the official and popular levels. Even Saudi Arabia has heard voices advocating a civil state. Whereas such voices were evident in critical newspaper columns, which raised countercriticism by the Saudi religious orthodoxy during the 2000s and 2010s, recently Crown Prince Muḥammad bin Salmān Āl Saʿūd has been increasingly portrayed in the Saudi media as directing the Kingdom toward a modern Islamic civil state, indicating a possible change in the perception of this concept. This article offers a contextual analysis of the Saudi intellectual polemic on the civil state model, which has been taking place for the past fifteen years, its development, meanings­, and prospects. The article will also consider the implications of the long-standing debate over the civil state idea taking place in Egypt on the short-lived Saudi contestation, in an effort to enhance the overall understanding of the conception of the civil state in the Arab world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-83
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Arabian Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Arab Spring
  • Egypt
  • IS
  • Islamic State
  • Muhammad bin Salman Al Saud
  • Saudi Arabia
  • civil state
  • religion
  • secularism


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