Saudi king reshuffles cabinet amid falling oil prices and ISIL threat
RIYADH // Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah made the most sweeping changes to his cabinet in almost a decade on the throne, as the kingdom faces the challenges of plunging oil prices and ISIL militants.
Changes were made at the agriculture, higher education, information, telecommunications, Islamic affairs, health, social affairs and transportation ministries, the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing royal decrees. Key posts, such as oil, finance, interior and defence, were left unchanged.
This is the most significant cabinet reshuffle since the Saudi monarch, born in 1924, took power in 2005.
Two years after ascending the throne, King Abdullah reappointed all serving cabinet members including oil minister Ali Al Naimi, who has held his post since 1995.
Since then, the monarch has only made minor ministerial changes.
The overhaul comes as Saudi rulers seek to manage the impact of crude prices that have dropped about 40 per cent since June. The decline accelerated after the November 27 decision when Opec, led by Saudi Arabia, ruled out cuts in production.
Saudi Arabia also faces a potential threat from ISIL militants after joining the US military campaign against the militant group in Iraq and Syria.
Saudi authorities said on Monday they arrested 135 terrorism suspects in nationwide raids, after attacks linked to supporters of the Al Qaeda breakaway group.
King Abdullah has been gradually introducing younger members of the royal family into key government positions. The process has gained speed since 2011 when revolts spread through the Arab world and Saudi Arabia expanded its welfare programmess to ward off unrest.
“The king and his advisers are looking to the future transitions, but also toward the present problems,” said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington. “Many of these cabinet shifts have to do with cultural, social and economic issues that are a major cause of some building tensions in the kingdom.”
Among the cabinet members replaced in the overhaul was Islamic affairs minister Sheikh Saleh Bin Abdulaziz Al Ashaikh, who ran the country’s mosques and religious schools since 1999. Another was Khalid Al Angary, who had held the post of minister for higher education since 1991, according to the website of the Saudi embassy in Washington DC.
* Bloomberg News