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Saudi Arabia appointed new FM

25 October, 2019

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RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has appointed a new foreign minister with experience in Western capitals and loyalty to the powerful crown prince, in what observers say is a generational shift being driven by the young ruler.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan — a one-time adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and currently ambassador to Germany — will replace Ibrahim al-Assaf who was in the role for less than a year.

Assaf, who was appointed in the aftermath of the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, was demoted to minister of state.

While Assaf was charged with mending the kingdom’s reputation in the immediate aftermath of the scandal, Prince Faisal has more repair work to do and must also contend with the kingdom’s dangerously tense relations with Iran.

The new minister has “really strong ties with traditional Saudi allies”, said Cinzia Bianco, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “He is dynamic and proactive.”

But analysts also pointed to the 45-year-old prince’s background with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, as well as his younger brother Prince Khaled, a former ambassador to Washingon he also served as adviser.

“It is part of a generational shift creating a new class of leaders in Saudi Arabia that are disconnected from the old power brokers, helping MBS to consolidate his power without having to rely on the old guard,” said Andreas Kreig, a professor at King’s College London.

“This in turn guarantees loyalty and control amid a centralisation of power in the hands of the crown prince. Foreign policy decisions are being made inside the crown prince’s office with ministers being executioners not actual decision makers.”

“A new Saudi political dynasty is appearing,” tweeted Aziz Alghashian, a Saudi foreign policy expert at the University of Essex.

Prince Faisal, who was appointed as envoy to Berlin earlier this year, “has really strong ties with traditional Saudi allies, US and even a more European outlook than would be traditionally the case”, said Bianco.

“The outgoing wasn’t really a foreign policy person. The newly appointed is very smart, very articulate and he has also been very strident in his statements,” said James Dorsey, a Middle East expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“MBS needs someone who is much more strident. MBS has a lot of repair to do and the new foreign minister has got what MBS needs.”

The kingdom has also been navigating a spike in tensions with its regional arch-rival Iran since attacks on Saudi oil facilities last month that temporarily halved the kingdom’s crude output and sent world prices soaring.

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