Saudi King Salman cements hold on power

Two sons of late King Abdullah relieved of responsibilities and heads of intelligence and other key agencies replaced.

Salman bin Abudlaziz al-Saud
Two sons of the late King Abdullah relieved of their responsibilities in the shake-up by King Salman [Reuters]

Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has cemented his hold on power with a government shake-up.

Thursday’s changes saw two sons of the late King Abdullah relieved of their responsibilities, and the heads of intelligence and other key agencies replaced alongside a cabinet shuffle.

High-level officials from the Ports Authority, the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the religious police were among those let go.

The new appointments came a week after Salman acceded to the throne following the death of Abdullah, aged about 90.

Salman also reached out directly to his subjects on Thursday. One of his more than 30 decrees ordered “two months’ basic salary to all Saudi government civil and military employees”, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

Students and pensioners got similar bonuses.

“Dear people: You deserve more and whatever I do will not be able to give you what you deserve,” Salman said later on his official Twitter account.

He asked his citizens to “not forget me in your prayers”.

SPA said Salman “issued a royal order today, relieving Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, chief of general intelligence, of his post.”

General Khalid bin Ali bin Abdullah al-Humaidan became the new intelligence chief, holding cabinet rank.

Separate decree

The change comes after authorities in Saudi Arabia last year blamed suspects linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group for shooting and wounding a Dane, and for killing minority Shia Muslims.

A separate decree said Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a nephew of Abdullah, was removed from his posts as secretary-general of the National Security Council and adviser to the king.

Prince Bandar was the kingdom’s ambassador to the US for 22 years until 2005, before moving to Saudi Arabia’s Security Council.

Two sons of Abdullah were also fired: Prince Mishaal, governor of the Mecca region, and Prince Turki, who governed the capital Riyadh, according to the decrees broadcast on Saudi television.

Another of Abdullah’s sons, Prince Miteb, retained his position as minister in charge of the National Guard, a parallel army of around 200,000 men.

Salman, 79, a half-brother of Abdullah, named a 31-member cabinet whose new faces include the ministers for culture and information, social affairs, civil service, and communications and information technology, among others.

Ali al-Naimi, oil minister; Prince Saud al-Faisal, foreign minister; and Ibrahim al-Assaf, finance minister, stayed in the cabinet of the world’s leading oil exporter.

A 50 percent fall in global oil prices since last June has left Saudi Arabia projecting its first budget deficit since 2011, but government spending is set to continue.

Salman merged the ministries of higher education and education, naming Azzam bin Mohammed al-Dakheel to head the super-ministry.

Saudi Arabia is trying to improve its basic education system and has built more universities as it seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

Stock market regulator

Another decree replaced the chief of the country’s stock market regulator, ahead of a mid-year target for opening the Arab world’s largest bourse to foreign investors.

Hours after Abdullah died on January 23, Salman appointed his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as defence minister.

Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the powerful interior minister, became second in line to the throne, while Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin, 69, was elevated to king-in-waiting.

Muqrin would reign as the last son of the kingdom’s founder, Abdulaziz bin Saud, leaving Mohammed bin Nayef as the first of the “second generation”, or grandsons of Abdulaziz.

In March 2014, Abdullah named Muqrin to the new position of deputy crown prince with the aim of smoothing succession hurdles.

The appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef helps to solidify control by Salman’s Sudairi branch of the royal family.

Their influence had waned under Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Along with other countries in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia has joined a US-led air campaign against ISIL that has seized parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

Source: AFP