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.
Jubeir was effectively demoted to minister of state for foreign affairs, the decree added without offering any explanation. Prince Abdullah bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz was appointed to head the powerful National Guard, while other princes were named as provincial rulers.
Musaed al-Aiban, a long-time government minister who most recently headed a national cybersecurity authority, was named national security adviser.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Thursday carried out a limited cabinet reshuffle, according to the Saudi Press Agency. The energy, economy and finance ministries were left untouched even as the petro-state faces a sharp fall in crude prices that has generated renewed uncertainty over Prince Mohammed's Vision 2030 reform program for a post-oil era.
Assaf, a former finance minister who was detained previous year in what Riyadh said was an anti-corruption sweep, replaced Adel al-Jubeir as foreign minister in the sweeping government shake-up ordered by King Salman. Assaf was held in Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton hotel past year along with hundreds of elite princes and businessmen, in what the government called an anti-corruption crackdown.
Investigations into Khashoggi's killing are still going on in both Turkey and Saudi Arabia. "You can not delink Khashoggi from any developments, though government reshuffles are customary every four years", said Mohammed Alyahya, a senior fellow at the Gulf Research Center.
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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, meant to show "that the government is not just running amok killing its own citizens in consulates, and that there is serious reform underway". Saudi Arabia on Thursday said it was creating government bodies to boost oversight of its intelligence operations, in the wake of Khashoggi's murder. Al-Jubeir blamed Khashoggi's killing on rogue Saudi agents; he also previously characterized the worldwide outcry over Khashoggi's murder as "fairly hysterical".
The king also promoted several young royals, many of whom have worked with the 33-year-old heir to the throne.
The changes did not, however, challenge Mohammed's almost absolute control of the kingdom's foreign and domestic policy, and he retained his powerful post as defence minister.
Shortly after he was released, Al-Assaf was appointed as a minister of state and a member of the Council of Ministers, and led the Saudi delegation that attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2018.
The Saudi government has repeatedly denied the crown prince's involvement in Khashoggi's killing.