Saudi Arabia has replaced some of its top military officers in a series of personnel changes that elevate a younger generation, bring a woman into a senior government job, and tighten Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s grip on power.
In a reshuffle announced on Monday, the military chief of staff, air defense, and land forces heads and senior defense and interior ministry officials were removed. Tamadur bint Youssef al-Ramah became deputy labour minister, a rare high-level job for a woman in the deeply conservative kingdom.
The crown prince, who is also defense minister and heir apparent, has promised reforms to wean Saudi Arabia off oil exports, create jobs, and open up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles.
The latest personnel changes were decreed by King Salman and published in state media. No reason for the changes was given.
The decrees included adopting a new strategy to restructure the defense ministry for improved organization and governance, but provided few details.
The overhaul was a nod to a younger generation, analysts said, in what has become a hallmark of the crown prince’s approach to ruling youthful Saudi Arabia, where patriarchal traditions have long made power the preserve of the old.
The appointment of a woman at the labour ministry is part of efforts to modernise and promote a more moderate form of Islam.
Prince Mohammed has loosened social restrictions, scaling back the role of religious police and permitting public concerts.
The government has announced plans to allow women to drive this year, and said women no longer need the consent of a male relative to open their own businesses, a step away from the kingdom’s guardianship system.
A senior Saudi cleric said last month that women need not wear the abaya — the loose-fitting, full-length robe symbolic of religious faith; and another prominent sheikh said that celebrating Valentine’s Day did not contradict Islamic teachings, defying the religious police’s hardline position.
Greg Gause, a Gulf expert at Texas A&M University, said the injection of more junior officials could help the crown prince cultivate a bloc within the royal family that is supportive of him at younger levels.
“But, and this is a big ‘but’, he is not appointing them to positions in the central government, at least not yet,” said Gause. “He is keeping power in the cabinet centralised in his hands.”