Saudi Arabia shakes up military brass, appoints first woman minister

28 February 2018

Saudi Arabia replaced its military chief of staff and other top defence personnel including and the heads of ground and air forces early on Tuesday morning in a shake-up apparently aimed at overhauling its defence ministry amid the stalemate in the war in Yemen.

Tamadhir bint Yosif al-Rammah  

The kingdom also announced a new female deputy minister of labour and social development, putting a woman in a position of authority for the first time as it tries to broaden the role of women in the workplace.

No reason was given for the changes, which were announced in a series of late-night royal decrees approved by King Salman on Monday and carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. Several civilian officials, including deputy ministers, were also replaced.

King Salman ''approved the document on developing the Ministry of Defence, including the vision and strategy of the Ministry's developing programme, the operational pattern targeting its development, the organisational structure, governance and human resources requirements,'' one statement said.

Chief among the changes was the firing of military chief of staff Gen. Abdulrahman bin Saleh al-Bunyan. Another announcement said the General would become a consultant to the royal court.

Gen Al-Bunyan was replaced by Gen. Fayyadh bin Hamid al-Rwaili, who once had been the commander of the Royal Saudi Air Force, among the nation's premier military forces.

The decisions come as the Saudi-led coalition, chiefly backed by the United Arab Emirates, remains mired in a stalemate in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country. Over 10,000 people have been killed in the war in which Saudi-led forces back Yemen's internationally recognised government against Shia rebels and their allies who are holding the country's capital.

The Saudi military heads a coalition that has been struggling for almost three years to regain control of Yemen from the rebel fighters with ties to Iran. That intervention is part of a more assertive regional policy pursued by Salman since he ascended to the throne three years ago.

Saudi-backed forces in Syria have largely been defeated by President Bashar al-Assad's army, supported by Russia and Iran. In Yemen, the Saudis intervened in March 2015 to restore the internationally recognised government and roll back advances by the Houthi rebels, who'd taken control of the capital, Sana'a, and other cities. The conflict has been described by United Nations officials as among the world's worst humanitarian crises.

The king and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, have also sought to tighten their grip at home - consolidating powers that were once shared out among an extended royal family. Senior princes and prominent businessmen were arrested in November as part of an anti-corruption campaign. A new generation of bureaucrats close to the crown prince have been installed in senior posts.

The kingdom faces wide international criticism for its airstrikes killing civilians and striking markets, hospitals and other civilian targets. Aid groups also blame a Saudi-led blockade of Yemen for pushing the country to the brink of famine.

Crown Prince Salman is the Saudi defence minister and architect of the Yemen war. While the crown prince has burnished his reputation abroad with promises of business-friendly reforms and other pledges, his role in Yemen haunts that carefully considered public personae.

The appointment of a woman in a ministerial position, Tamadhir bint Yosif al-Rammah, comes as the kingdom prepares to allow women to drive this year and pushes to have more women in Saudi workplaces.

Also appointed was Prince Turki bin Talal Al Saud as deputy governor of the Asir region. The Prince's brother is billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who recently was detained for months at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh as part of what the government described as an anti-corruption campaign.

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