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Saudi King reshuffles ministries

Published: 1:53PM Sunday February 15, 2009 Source: Reuters

  • King Abdullah (Source: Reuters)
    King Abdullah - Source: Reuters

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has replaced central bank governor Hamad Saud al-Sayyari with his deputy, Muhammad al-Jasser, as part of a wide government reshuffle, state media reported.

The reshuffle did not affect either of the key ministries of oil or finance, according to royal decrees, which also named the conservative Muslim country's first female deputy minister.

Sayyari had been at the helm of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), the kingdom's central bank, since 1983 when he was appointed acting governor before being confirmed at the post two years later.

Analysts said it was unlikely that Sayyari's departure would lead to a drastic change in SAMA's policies.

"Jasser will want to maintain the consistency of the Saudi central bank because this is the characteristic of Saudi Arabia ... You take a long-term view," said John Sfakianakis, chief economist at SABB bank, HSBC's Saudi subsidiary.

Under Sayyari, the world's largest oil exporter pegged its riyal currency to the US dollar in 1986 and opted for a conservative investment policy for its cash surpluses.

The monarch also appointed Abdul-Aziz Khoja, who was ambassador to Lebanon, as information minister, replacing Iyad bin Amin Madani, state media reported.

Western diplomats say Madani was a strong advocate of reforms in the kingdom. Clerics had often attacked Madani for allowing the local press to take greater liberty in challenging the strong influence of the religious establishment.

Ibrahim al-Ghaith, outgoing head of the morals police - the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - was replaced by Abdul-Aziz al-Humayen.

The head of the commission is the kingdom's second-most influential cleric.

The police have wide powers to search for alcohol, drugs and prostitution, ensure shops are closed during prayer times and maintain a strict system of sexual segregation in Saudi society, where women are even banned from driving.

The monarch also appointed Noura al-Fayez as deputy education minister, the highest government post to be filled by a woman.

Saleh bin Humaid, who was speaker of the advisory Shura Council, was appointed head of the Supreme Judiciary Court and was replaced by the outgoing justice minister, Abdullah al-Sheikh.