SAUDI ARABIA - Aug. 1 - Cabinet Reshuffles.
A long-awaited cabinet reshuffle brings into the government only
five new faces, keeping in place Oil Minister Al Naimi and the princes
from the ruling Al Saud family who hold the strategic portfolios of
defence, foreign affairs and the interior. New ministers are appointed
to the agriculture, transport, telecommunications and information
technology and health ministries. A new minister of state without
portfolio is brought in. Some ministries are restructured. The economy
portfolio is taken away from Ibrahim El Assaf, who remains finance
minister, and given to Planning Minister Khaled Bin Mohammad Al Qusaibi.
Culture is added to the responsibilities of the information minister.
Three brothers of the ailing King Fahd retain their posts: Crown Prince
Abdullah as first deputy PM, Prince Sultan as second deputy PM and
defence minister, Prince Nayef as interior minister. The king's
nephew, Prince Saud Al Faisal, keeps his post as FM. A Western diplomat
said: "It is much less than everyone expected. No key minister has
been changed". He added that there had been speculation the
reshuffle would mark the start of a process of reform that had been
debated in newspaper columns and within elite circles in recent weeks.
There has been talk of change since January when Crown Prince Abdullah
invited for talks the signatories of a petition calling for wide-ranging
change, including an elected shura council. A shura is a group of people
who make decisions by consultation. The prince, the de facto ruler of
the kingdom, has said that change is only a matter of time. He is seen
as a reformer, although it is not yet clear how far he is willing to go
in introducing change and at what pace. Liberals say they recognise that
change can only come after a laborious process of consensus-building
within both the ruling family and a wider society dominated by powerful
religious establishment. But many liberals fear that reform, if it
comes, will be too little, too late. They say urgent steps are needed to
deal effectively with the problems of a predominantly young society
suffering from a host of ills ranging from unemployment to religious
extremism. The cosmetic cabinet reshuffle is certain to heighten their