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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 concern.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7SAUD
Date:Aug 2, 2003
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