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Saudi reshuffle: ‘Riyadh signals to US foes that it’s ready to cooperate’

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Saudi Arabia has made a major reshuffle of its top officials. The move is meant to make the cabinet more efficient and loyal to the King and the crown prince in the face of US pressure, a Middle East expert told RT.
King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Tuesday issued a number of royal decrees, reforming some parts of the Saudi cabinet and appointing different individuals to various offices. It’s the second major reshuffle by the king after Saudi Arabia changed the way power is transferred in the monarchy and made his son Mohammed bin Salman the heir to the throne, Grigory Lukyanov, a Middle East analyst and senior lecturer at the Russian Higher School of Economics, told RT.

The first reshuffle came amid the so-called anti-corruption campaign, which boils down to shaking down powerful and wealthy princes to fill up the coffers of the kingdom while curbing their political ambition. The new round is about placing more competent people in charge while not compromising the powerbase of Salman and his son, Lukyanov said.

The need comes in part from the Jamal Khashoggi case and in part from the remaining doubt among the political elites over the reform of the inheritance procedure. The rotations of officials in Saudi Arabia are increasingly pushing up non-aristocratic people, who are making a career on their personal merits..Mohammed perceives them as the future foundation of his power.

The Khashoggi case centers around the murder of a prominent self-exiled Saudi journalist, which triggered a major falling out between Riyadh and its Western backers. The crown prince is believed by many people to be personally responsible for the slaying of Khashoggi, which happened at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Saudi king needs to find ways to address the new reality, in which his country’s traditional patron, the US, takes actions hostile towards the Saudis, the expert said.

The Saudi government has to act in a robust manner, purging the elite from those deemed too pro-American, including in the cabinet. They also have to show the US that they will not tolerate anyone’s meddling in Saudi Arabia’s domestic affairs and signal other nations that their help would be appreciated.

The reform of the Saudi space authority, which is part of the reshuffle, is a clear signal to Russia and China, that Saudi Arabia is willing to consider purchasing space technologies from them, even though Washington sees both as its strategic foes, Lukyanov added.

The efficiency aspect, too, is in part driven by foreign pressure. A more competent cabinet will have better chances in preventing incidents like the Khashoggi murder or Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic row with Canada, the expert said. The king and his son are apparently confident enough in their hold on power, since they decided they can sacrifice less-competent loyal people in the reshuffle and appoint others in their place. In the previous round, loyalty to the king’s faction was considered a paramount consideration.

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