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Reshuffle in Saudi cabinet, princes and ministers held: What the move means

The move consolidates Crown Prince Mohammed’s control of the kingdom’s security institutions.

world Updated: Nov 05, 2017 17:27 IST
Agencies, Riyadh
Saudi Arabia,Saudi Arabia politics,Saudi Arabia royal family
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a graduation ceremony and air show marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of King Faisal Air College in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.(Reuters File Photo)

Saudi King Salman appointed two new ministers on Saturday to key security and economic posts, removing one of the royal family’s most prominent members as head of the National Guard and boosting the kingdom’s young crown prince.

The king also announced the creation of a new anti-corruption committee chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman which Al Arabiya TV said had already detained 11 princes, four current ministers and tens of former ministers. The suspects were not named.

The cabinet reshuffle saw Prince Miteb bin Abdullah replaced as minister of the National Guard by Khaled bin Ayyaf, while Economy Minister Adel Fakieh was removed in favour of his deputy Mohammed al-Tuwaijri, according to a royal decree carried by state-run media.

Prince Miteb, the preferred son of the late King Abdullah, was once thought to be a leading contender for the throne before the unexpected rise of Prince Mohammed two years ago. He had inherited control of the National Guard, an elite internal security force built out of traditional tribal units, from his father, who ran it for five decades.

Saudi Arabian Prince Miteb bin Abdullah at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (Reuters File Photo)

Prince Miteb was the last remaining member of Abdullah’s branch of the family to hold a position in the upper echelons of the Saudi power structure.

What the cabinet shuffle does

The move consolidates Crown Prince Mohammed’s control of the kingdom’s security institutions, which had long been headed by separate powerful branches of the ruling family.

Prince Mohammed, the king’s 32-year-old son, already serves as defence minister and was named heir to the throne in a June reshuffle that sidelined his older cousin, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who had also served as interior minister.

Read | Drug addiction and intrigue: Why Saudi King ordered Mohammed bin Nayef to step aside for younger prince

He has been responsible at the same time for running Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, dictating an energy policy with global implications and behind the plans for the kingdom to build a future after oil.

Prince Mohammed, who has pledged to go after graft at the highest levels, will now also head up the new anti-corruption body, which was given broad powers to investigate cases, issue arrest warrants and travel restrictions, and freeze assets.

“The homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted and the corrupt are held accountable,” the royal decree said.

New economy minister

The country’s new economy minister, Tuwaijri, is a former Saudi air force pilot and former chief executive of HSBC’s Middle East operations who has led the economy ministry’s programme to privatise some $200 billion of government assets.

He replaces Fakieh, who served as the point man for the kingdom’s wide-ranging economic reforms since his appointment as economy and planning minister in 2015.

A former food executive with a reputation for pushing through politically sensitive reforms, Fakieh had previously served as labour minister, health minister and mayor of Jeddah.

Fakieh faced down fierce opposition from the business community as labour minister when he established quotas for foreign workers to boost jobs for Saudis.

Read | Saudi king’s son plotted to oust his rival as crown prince

Under Prince Mohammed, Fakieh led the development of a national transformation plan and privatisation drive launched last year to end the kingdom’s vulnerability to an unpredictable oil market. His replacement comes as the kingdom makes adjustments to that plan, a process dubbed NTP 2.0.

The royal decree did not say whether Fakieh would hold any other government position. Former ministers often serve in advisory roles after leaving their posts.

The arrests

Al Arabiya television reported that the princes, four current and dozens of former ministers were arrested as the commission launched a probe into floods that devastated the Red Sea city of Jeddah in 2009 and the deadly outbreak of the Mers virus some years ago.

State-run Saudi Press Agency said the commission’s goal was to “preserve public money, punish corrupt people and those who exploit their positions”.

Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal was among those arrested, Saudi news websites said though there was no official confirmation. The prince could not be reached for comment.

According to a senior Saudi official who declined to be identified under briefing rules, those detained include:
  • Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of Kingdom Holding
  • Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, minister of the National Guard
  • Prince Turki bin Abdullah, former governor of Riyadh province
  • Khalid al-Tuwaijri, former chief of the Royal Court
  • Adel Fakeih, Minister of Economy and Planning
  • Ibrahim al-Assaf, former finance minister
  • Abdullah al-Sultan, commander of the Saudi navy
  • Bakr bin Laden, chairman of Saudi Binladin Group
  • Mohammad al-Tobaishi, former head of protocol at the Royal Court
  • Amr al-Dabbagh, former governor of Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority
  • Alwaleed al-Ibrahim, owner of television network MBC
  • Khalid al-Mulheim, former director-general at Saudi Arabian Airlines
  • Saoud al-Daweesh, former chief executive of Saudi Telecom
  • Prince Turki bin Nasser, former head of the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment
  • Prince Fahad bin Abdullah bin Mohammad al-Saud, former deputy defence minister
  • Saleh Kamel, businessman
  • Mohammad al-Amoudi, businessman

An aviation source told AFP that security forces had grounded private jets in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, potentially to prevent any high-profile figures from leaving.

“The breadth and scale of the arrests appears to be unprecedented in modern Saudi history,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

“The reported detention of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, if true, would send shock waves through the domestic and international business community,” Ulrichsen told AFP.

First Published: Nov 05, 2017 12:04 IST