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Saudi Arabia

Allies of Saudi crown prince are promoted in government overhaul, as kingdom grapples with aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi killing

  • Supporters of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will head a critical security agency and other posts
PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 5:06am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 7:26pm

Saudi Arabia replaced its foreign minister and shuffled other key government posts Thursday as its leaders continue to grapple with the backlash to the killing by Saudi agents of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The government overhaul, announced in a string of decrees by the Saudi leader, King Salman, elevated allies of the king’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to head a critical security agency and other posts, in moves seen as aiding the prince’s ongoing consolidation of power.

No women were named to senior cabinet positions.

Adel al-Jubeir, a veteran diplomat who is well known in Washington and served as ambassador there for eight years before being appointed foreign minister in 2015, was replaced by Ibrahim al-Assaf, a former finance minister, according to the decrees. Jubeir was named minister of state for foreign affairs, with responsibilities that remain unclear.

In the past few months, Jubeir had served as the public face of the kingdom’s laboured efforts to explain the death of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist and critic of his country’s leadership who was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

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Saudi Arabia faced a torrent of criticism after denying any knowledge of Khashoggi’s fate for weeks after his disappearance and then as graphic details about his killing emerged. Turkish officials said that a team of Saudi agents, acting on orders from high-ranking officials in the Saudi government, had been dispatched to Istanbul to carry out what Turkey said was a premeditated murder.

Khashoggi’s body, which was dismembered, according to Turkish and Saudi officials, has not been found. The Saudi government belatedly acknowledged the involvement of its operatives but insisted they had disobeyed instructions to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia alive.

Even as Saudi officials have insisted that Mohammed – the kingdom’s effective leader – knew nothing of the plot, the episode has led to greater scrutiny of his policies, including his decision to involve the Saudi military in a war in Yemen and his crackdown on domestic critics and rivals, including a group of prominent women’s rights activists.

The Saudi government has publicly reacted to the criticism with defiance – for example, condemning a recent US Senate resolution that blamed the crown prince for Khashoggi’s killing.

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But Saudi officials have privately signalled their concern about the international fallout. Some had predicted in recent weeks that the response would include a government shake-up that might also provide more seasoned counsel to the 33-year old crown prince.

The changes did not, however, challenge Mohammed’s nearly absolute control of the kingdom’s foreign and domestic policy, and he retained his powerful post as defence minister.

Assaf, the incoming foreign minister, has served as finance minister, a member of the board of Saudi Aramco, the state oil company, and as a governor of the International Monetary Fund. He was also detained for several months last year during a round-up of hundreds of business executives, princes and government ministers in what Saudi authorities called an “anti-corruption” sweep.

Musaed al-Aiban, a long-time government minister who most recently headed a national cybersecurity authority, was named national security adviser.

His appointment ended, for now, speculation that the post would be filled by Prince Khalid bin Salman, a younger brother of the crown prince who serves as the Saudi ambassador to the United States and has faced criticism for his early denials about a Saudi role in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Another appointee, Prince Abdullah bin Bandar, a young royal seen as close to the crown prince, was named head of the Saudi National Guard, a powerful security agency whose role has been to protect the royal family.