King Abdullah Reshuffles Cabinet, Embarks on New Reform Initiative

In an effort to accelerate the pace of reform in Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah has made new appointments to a number of top government posts, including the Council of Ministers. The new political appointments are a significant step in the Kingdom’s overall liberalization initiative, as the appointees are expected to bring new moderate voices to the Saudi political system, as well as greater transparency and representation. These are the first major changes in the cabinet since King Abdullah ascended the throne in 2005.

Among the appointments is a new Minister of Education. H.R.H. Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Muhammed Al-Saud will succeed H.E. Dr. Abdullah Ibn Saleh Bin-Obaid. Prince Faisal is said to share the King’s goal of ambitious reform in the field of education and has helped with the development of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). The university, which serves as the centerpiece of the Kingdom’s education reform effort and will obtain an endowment of $10 billion, has commissioned U.S. companies and academic institutions to aid in the development of KAUST’s state-of-the-art technology centers, research initiatives, and advanced studies programs. Significantly, King Abdullah also appointed H.E. Noura Fayez to the new post of Deputy Minister of Women’s Education. Noura Fayez’s appointment reflects the growing role of women in Saudi government, society, and business.

King Abdullah named H.E. Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah as the new Minister of Health, succeeding H.E. Dr. Hamad Bin Abdullah Al-Mane.’ Dr. Al-Rabeeah has pledged to revamp the Saudi medical sector by addressing such problems as bed shortages and inadequate medical facilities at public hospitals and in rural areas of the country.

The Saudi Government’s reform initiative, including the appointment of H.E. Mohammed ibn Abdul Kareem Al-Issa as the new Minister of Justice, also aims at facilitating changes in the Kingdom’s judicial system by fostering greater transparency, expediting litigation, and establishing stronger protections over commercial and intellectual property. The reforms are expected to improve dispute resolution between Saudi and foreign companies, which has traditionally been viewed as cumbersome and slow-moving. Further, the Saudi Government has decided to reestablish the Grand Ulema Council, the body which offers advice on the religious aspects of law and regulations. Membership in the Ulema has been expanded to include representatives of all Sunni schools of law, an important step toward exchanging varying legal perspectives.

Another important appointment is that of H.E. Muhammad Al-Jasser as Governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), the Kingdom’s central bank. Dr. Al-Jasser, who previously served as Deputy Governor of SAMA, will succeed H.E. Hamad Saud Al-Sayari. Governor Al-Jasser is expected to continue to set forth the same strong monetary policies that have helped the Kingdom weather the current economic downturn better than many of its G-20 counterparts.

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