Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has appointed his sixth son to govern the Islamic holy city of Mecca, part of a push to empower a younger generation of royals and implement change.
Prince Meshaal bin Abdullah replaces Prince Khaled al-Faisal, who was named education minister, Saudi State TV said today, citing a royal decree. Prince Khaled replaces Faisal Bin Abdullah Bin Mohammed, who asked to be relieved of his post, state TV said.
The monarch, born in 1924, began moving a younger generation of princes into senior government positions after unprecedented regional instability started toppling leaders across the Middle East in 2011. Mohammed bin Nayef was appointed interior minister in November 2012 and Prince Miteb bin Abdullah was named minister of the National Guard in May.
“The move demonstrates Abdullah’s wishes for movement towards reform,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said today in response to e-mailed questions. “Prince Khaled and Prince Mishaal are princes to watch in the coming years as they represent the vanguard of a younger generation of Al-Saud.”
Prince Meshaal, who was governor of Najran along the Yemeni border since 2009, will oversee Islam’s holiest city of Mecca and the kingdom’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.
The Al Saud, who unified the country in 1932 under King Abdulaziz Al Saud, are trying to prevent regional unrest from causing instability at home by creating jobs and allowing for limited social change in the conservative Islamic nation. Abdullah unveiled a $130 billion social spending plan in 2011. More recently, the government has taken steps to tighten labor regulations for foreign workers so more jobs go to Saudis.
Abdullah has expanded the rights of women in the world’s biggest oil exporter by opening the country’s first coeducational university, naming its first female deputy minister and allowing women to vote and run in municipal elections. Women are still forbidden to drive. The king has to contend with opposition from traditionalist clerics and their followers as he makes changes.
Abdullah’s heir apparent is Crown Prince and Defense Minister Salman bin Abdulaziz, born in 1935. The second in line is Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, who was appointed in February as second deputy prime minister after serving as intelligence chief and a special adviser to the king.
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