Saudi Arabia fires top army chiefs in military shake-up

Army chief of staff, ministers and top commanders of ground and air defence forces replaced, in series of royal decrees.

Saudi King Salman listens during a meeting of the Saudi-Iraqi Bilateral Coordination Council with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi
No official reason has been given for the overhaul (File: AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool]

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has fired his top military commanders and reshuffled his cabinet in a shake-up of key security and government ministries.

Those dismissed by royal decree overnight on Tuesday included the Saudi army’s chief of staff, and the heads of the ground and air defence forces.

First Lieutenant General Fayyad bin Hamed al-Ruwayli was appointed the new chief of staff, while Tamadur bint Youssef al-Ramah was appointed as deputy labour minister in a rare senior post for a woman in the kingdom.

Prince Turki bin Talal – the brother of Alwaleed bin Talal – a billionaire businessman who was detained for months by the government on allegations of corruption – was also appointed to a deputy governor position.


No official reason has been given for the overhaul, but it comes as Saudi Arabia faces growing criticism against the military coalition it leads in the Yemen war.

The developments also come amid a series of changes led by country’s 32-year-old Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS), who has vowed to transform both Saudi Arabia’s culture and economy.

MBS was appointed crown prince in June 2017 when King Salman, his father, implemented a major government shake-up.

‘MBS is coming soon’

Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor of Arab politics, said that while many see a link between the Saudi reshuffle and the war in Yemen, the move signals changes to come within the kingdom’s internal politics.

“This development tells us one thing: the new king [MBS] is coming sooner rather than later,” Zweiri told Al Jazeera.

“It seems that he’s setting the platform for his son to rule – we’ve witnessed serious changes to the economy, attempts to fight corruption and so on,” he added.

Zweiri further explained that Saudi Arabia has a strategy it is following in Yemen and that a government reshuffle does not necessarily mean its policy in the war would change.

Saudi Arabia entered the Yemen war in 2015 when it launched a military offensive after Houthi rebels took over the capital, Sanaa, and large swathes of the impoverished country a year earlier.

Due to the high civilian death toll, the kingdom has been under fire to alter its strategy in the war.

Repairing Saudi’s image?

Commenting on the appointment of Alwaleed’s brother, Zweiri said he believes Saudi may be trying to repair its image, after it launched an arrest campaign of royal family members, ministers and top businessmen in November 2017.

“It’s all political – they’re trying to send a message that we’re not against him [Alwaleed] – and that despite what we did, he’s still one of us,” said Zweiri.

More importantly, said Zweiri, the government reshuffle is aimed at bringing those closer to MBS to power in a bid to promote “a new way of thinking”.

Since MBS’ appointment as crown prince, Saudi announced it would end its long-standing ban on allowing women to drive, and major economic reforms seeking to privatise the economy have been introduced.

“I think we are going to see more changes in personnel both within [the] military as well as civilian administration, simply because he is putting in his own people and he wants to project a certain image of the kingdom,” James Dorsey, senior fellow at the S Raja Ratnam School of International Studies, Singapore, told Al Jazeera.

“One has to keep in mind that in effect the crown prince has changed the government structure of Saudi Arabia,” he said, adding that it’s a one-man rule as opposed to the past when decisions were taken by consensus.

Source: Al Jazeera