Wednesday, April 24, 2019
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Saudi Arabia: King Salman changes his mind

We will no longer see the very diplomat Adel al-Joubeir explain and positve smoothly and in perfect English the positions of his country. Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia since 2015, he vigorously defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in the Khashoggi case. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, his fate appears as the most notable dismissal in the scale reshuffle announced Thursday in Riyadh.

In a series of royal decrees with immediate effect, King Salman made the appointment and dismissal of dozens of personalities occupying key positions in government and administration. In addition to Foreign Affairs, the portfolios of Education, Information and the National Guard have changed hands. More than a mere cabinet reshuffle, it is a restructuring of the Saudi state apparatus including the Council of Political Affairs and Security and that of Economic Affairs and Development. These two central government bodies remain chaired by Crown Prince MBS, but their composition is modified to include new members, some of whom are directly linked to the Royal Cabinet.

Remarkable removal

Marking his resumption in direct hand of the affairs of the kingdom in spite of his advanced age (82 years) and his illness, the Saudi sovereign made these decisions at the end of annus horribilis for his country, which undergoes the shock wave of the Khashoggi affair. Appearances remain safe: his tempestuous favorite son MBS, suspected of being the sponsor of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi remains Crown Prince and Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia. But many of the appointments or reassignments decided by the king indicate that his son no longer has the upper hand over the men of power.

Among the newcomers, Ibrahim al-Assaf, the new head of diplomacy appointed to replace Al-Joubeir, was among the fifty or so princes and businessmen caught in the spectacular anti-corruption crackdown ordered by MBS at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh in November 2017. A former finance minister, al-Assaf was quickly released and no evidence of corruption was found against him. Another notable dismissal targeted a very close to MBS, the highly influential Turki Al-Sheikh, who headed the mighty sports council and who became director of the entertainment authority.

Other King Salman's decrees affecting the security services as well as appointments to certain positions of members of the marginalized branches of the royal family by MBS are all signals of the King's willingness to close the ranks divided by his son. An attempt to "trim the wings", according to the Arabic phrase or "trim the wings" of MBS.

Hala Kodmani

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