Saudi King Salman bin Addul Aziz ordered the first major reshuffle and shakeup in the cabinet since the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul nearly three months ago. According to the royal decree, the portfolios of several ministers have been changed. These changes were expected in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s killing.
It seems that this reshuffle and shakeup will further tighten the grip of young crown prince Muhammad bin Salman as his close aides and royal family members appointed to key positions. The crown prince was under immense pressure and faced barrage of criticism from the West and Turkey after the killing of Khashoggi. He seems recovering from that episode that even put his throne in danger.
The foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, who took over the post in 2015 from the late Prince Saud al-Faisal, was replaced by Ibrahim al-Assaf, formerly a longtime finance minister. Al-Jubeir was appointed to the rank of minister of state for foreign affairs.
Al-Assaf had been serving as a minister of state prior to being named foreign minister. He holds a seat on the boards of state-owned oil-giant Saudi Aramco and the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund. The crown prince oversees both entities.
The king issued a number of other royal decrees, which were read on state TV that replaced the ministers of media and education. Turki Shabbaneh, a Saudi TV presenter, was named minister of media. Hamad al-Sheikh was appointed minister of education.
Meanwhile, Prince Abdullah bin Bandar the son of Prince Bandar Al Saud who once served as Saudi ambassador to Washington for decades was named head of the National Guard. The force is tasked primarily with the protection of the Al Saud ruling family.
He also ordered a shakeup of the kingdom’s two supreme councils that oversee matters related to the economy and security, respectively. Both councils are headed by the king’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose powers, including roles as deputy prime minister and defense minister, were untouched in the overhaul.
One significant change impacts a close aide of the crown prince, Turki al-Sheikh, who was named as head of the kingdom’s General Entertainment Authority, a body created in recent years to help organize and promote concerts and other events that had long been banned in the conservative country.
Al-Sheikh, who is known to be close to the crown prince, was replaced as head of the Sports Authority by Prince Abdul-Aziz bin Turki al-Faisal.
This reshuffle is a clear indication that crown prince Muhammad bin Salman still calls the shots in the kingdom. It has apparently been become clear that his position is safe and he is further consolidating his power. But it will time take time before he can improve his international standings and image. The brutal killing of Saudi journalist in Saudi consulate by Saudi intelligence agents badly damaged his reputation as reformer and liberal leader.
He has successfully opened the deeply conservative society and kingdom for cinemas, theaters and modern sports and music events. He also ended the long time segregation and restrictions on women participation in social and public activities.
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