Saudi Arabia kept key supporters of Mohammed Bin Salman in their cabinet jobs and brought in some new ones, in the first major government shake-up since the kingdom and its crown prince became the focus of an outcry over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
The ministers of finance, energy, economy, and trade — senior members of the crown prince’s team — retained their positions in an overhaul announced on Thursday when a series of royal decrees issued by King Salman was read out on national television.
The king also promoted several young royals, many of whom have worked with the 33-year-old heir to the throne. Prince Abdullah bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz was appointed to head the powerful National Guard, while other princes were named as provincial rulers.
Khashoggi’s murder by government agents triggered a wave of international outrage and fueled speculation that the king may curtail his son’s powers. Instead, the appointments are a sign that the prince is consolidating his position “as he appoints key allies,” according to Ali Shihabi, head of the Arabia Foundation, a pro-Saudi think tank in Washington. He, however, said the changes were in line with a law that requires the cabinet to be replaced or reappointed every four years, rather than a reaction to the killing.
The younger princes who were named to the cabinet and as provincial governors represent the “new generation of royalty,” according to Mohammed al-Sheikh, a minister also seen as a key member of the crown prince’s team. “The vast majority of them have served within the royal court for a period of time, they attended meetings with his royal highness the crown prince and worked under his supervision,” he said in a telephone interview.
The Khashoggi killing has strained the decades-old Saudi-American alliance. U.S. President Donald Trump has declared his continued support for Prince Mohammed, touting Saudi weapons purchases as well as the kingdom’s role in containing Iranian influence.
But leading lawmakers, including Republican allies of the president like Senator Lindsey Graham, blame Prince Mohammed for the murder and say the Central Intelligence Agency backs that conclusion. The Saudis are also coming under increasing pressure to end their military campaign in Yemen against rebels backed by Iran.
Read More: Russia Warns U.S. Against Interfering in Saudi Royal Succession
The Saudi government has repeatedly denied the crown prince’s involvement in Khashoggi’s killing. Russia, increasingly influential in the region, has expressed support for Prince Mohammed. President Vladimir Putin’s chief Middle East envoy on Tuesday warned the U.S. against trying to influence the royal succession.
Other allies of the crown prince who remained in power include Turki Al Alshikh, a royal adviser whose fate has been subject to speculation. He was moved sideways, from chief of the sports authority to a similar post overseeing entertainment.
King Salman also appointed a new chief of public security and ordered an overhaul of the foreign ministry. He put Ibrahim Al-Assaf, a former finance minister, in charge of reshaping its bureaucracy, naming him as foreign minister to replace Adel al-Jubeir.
Al-Jubeir, whose title was changed to the minister of state for foreign affairs, will remain the public face of Saudi diplomacy and “continue to represent the kingdom,” al-Sheikh said. “But the ministry requires a major overhaul,” he said. Al-Assaf “will lead that effort. He will be responsible for the development of our foreign policy institutions.”
Kamran Bokhari, a foreign policy specialist at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute, said Thursday’s reshuffle is part of a “public relations” drive, intended to show “that the government is not just running amok killing its own citizens in consulates, and that there is serious reform underway.”
Also, he said, King Salman and Prince Mohammed “have to be able to make sure that they have qualified people at the top working for them who can deliver, and are of course loyal.”