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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saudi Arabia: King Salman fires late King’s sons - The Muslim NewsThe Muslim News

Saudi Arabia: King Salman fires late King’s sons - The Muslim NewsThe Muslim News

Two days after meeting with US President Barack Obama in Riyadh, and only six days after the death of his half-brother King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman on Thursday further cemented his hold on power, with a sweeping shakeup that saw two sons of the late Abdullah fired, and the heads of intelligence and other key agencies replaced alongside a cabinet shuffle. Experts in Saudi politics considered these changes a “political massacre,” saying that the new king was clearly trying to erase all traces of his late half-brother.
Top officials from the Ports Authority, the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the conservative Islamic kingdom’s religious police were among those let go.
The new appointments came a week after Salman acceded to the throne following the death of Abdullah, aged about 98.
Salman also reached out directly to his subjects on Thursday. One of his more than 30 decrees ordered “two months’ basic salary to all Saudi government civil and military employees,” the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.
Students and pensioners got similar bonuses.
“Dear people: You deserve more and whatever I do will not be able to give you what you deserve,” the king said later on his official Twitter account.
He asked his citizens to “not forget me in your prayers.”
On the long term, Saudi rulers nevertheless have to manage the needs of a rapidly growing population plagued by structural unemployment, an economy that remains overly dependent on oil revenue and undermined by lavish subsidies, and growing demands for more freedoms and rights.
SPA said Salman “issued a royal order today, relieving Prince Khaled bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Chief of General Intelligence, of his post.”
Surprisingly, General Khaled bin Ali bin Abdullah al-Humaidan became the new intelligence chief, holding cabinet rank.
Analysts deemed the decision as one of the of the “agreements between Saudi Arabia and the United States,” because usually this position is assigned to someone from inside the ruling family.
The change comes after authorities in the kingdom last year blamed suspects linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremist group for shooting and wounding a Dane, and for gunning down citizens from the Shia minority sect.
Seven Shia Muslims, including children, were gunned down in the town of al-Dalwa when masked assailants fired at a crowd commemorating Ashura, one of the Shia faith’s holiest occasions.
An eighth from a neighboring village was killed when the assailants robbed his car in order to use it in the attack.
Following the killings, a royal decree dismissed deputy governor of the kingdom’s Eastern Province and Culture and Information Minister Abdulaziz Khoja from their posts.
Shias say they face discrimination in seeking education or government employment and that they are spoken of disparagingly in textbooks and by some government officials and state-funded clerics in the Wahhabi kingdom.
They also complain of restrictions on setting up places of worship and marking Shia holidays, and say that the Shia-dominated Eastern Province receives less state funding than other communities of equivalent size.
The Saudi government denies charges of discrimination but according to a 2009 Human Rights Watch report, Shia citizens in Saudi Arabia “face systematic discrimination in religion, education, justice, and employment.”
The Eastern Province saw a rise in protests in 2011 to demand its political rights and end the injustice and discrimination its people suffer at the hands of the sectarian and oppressive Saudi regime.
The Saudi regime responded to the peaceful protests by terrorizing the people of Qatif and Awamiyah, killing more than 20 people and wounding at least 58 others between 2011 and August 2012. The number of people detained in Saudi prisons exceeded 1,042, of whom 280 remain in prison, including 24 children.
Saudi judges also passed death sentences on five pro-democracy advocates in 2014, including prominent activist and cleric Nimr al-Nimr, for their part in protests.
Meanwhile, a separate decree said Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a nephew of Abdullah, was removed from his posts as secretary-general of the National Security Council and adviser to the king.
Prince Bandar was the kingdom’s ambassador to the United States for 22 years until 2005 before moving to Saudi Arabia’s Security Council. King Salman has decided to abolish the National Security Council altogether.
Two sons of the late monarch were also fired: Prince Meshaal, governor of the Mecca region, and Prince Turki, who governed the capital Riyadh, according to the decrees broadcast on Saudi television.
Super-ministry
Another of Abdullah’s sons, Prince Miteb, retained his position as minister in charge of the National Guard, a parallel army of around 200,000 men.
Salman, thought to be 79 years old and a half-brother of Abdullah, named a 31-member cabinet whose new faces include the ministers for culture and information, social affairs, civil service, and communications and information technology, among others.
Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, and Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf stayed in the cabinet of the world’s leading oil exporter.
A 50 percent fall in global oil prices since last June has left Saudi Arabia projecting its first budget deficit since 2011, but government spending is set to continue.
Salman merged the ministries of higher education and education, naming Azzam bin Mohammed al-Dakheel to head the super-ministry.
Saudi Arabia is trying to improve its basic education system and has built more universities as it seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.
Another decree replaced the chief of the country’s stock market regulator, ahead of a mid-year target for opening the Arab world’s largest bourse to foreign investors.
Hours after Abdullah died on January 23, Salman appointed his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as defense minister.
Powerful Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef became second in line to the throne, while Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin, 69, was elevated to king-in-waiting.
In March 2014, King Abdullah named Muqrin to the new position of deputy crown prince with the aim of smoothing succession hurdles.
Another decree stipulated that 12 security, political, economic, educational, and social councils and committees be replaced by only two councils directly related to the cabinet which is headed by the king. The first is is the Political and Security Affairs Council, headed by powerful Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, and the second is the Economic and Development Affairs Council, headed by newly-appointed Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Bin Nayef and bin Salman are to lead the country in the future, and fulfill their current task.
Bin Nayef is said to be particularly close to the US Administration, and is described by US media as the first Saudi man to “counter terrorism.” As for bin Salman, his appointment as defense minister and head of an economic council at once seems rather questionable, and stirred up satiric comments among Saudis.
The appointment of bin Nayef helps to solidify control by the new king’s Sudayri branch of the royal family.
Their influence had waned under King Abdullah.
In another decree, Salman appointed Adel al-Tarifi, a current manager at Al-Arabiya news channel, as the minister of information. He also announced amnesty for prisoners who have been detained for violating “public right.”
Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Saudi Arabia adopts a strict version of Sunni Islam that influences all aspects of life in the Gulf kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam is mirrored in the ideology of some of the jihadist groups that have emerged during the Syrian conflict, notably the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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