Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has replaced the country’s energy minister with one of his sons, naming Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman to one of the most important positions in the kingdom.
The new energy minister is an older half-brother to the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and an experienced oil industry figure in Saudi Arabia. He has been minister of state for energy affairs since 2017. The two brothers are not known to be close.
It is the first time a member of the ruling Al Saud family has held the energy minister post in the world’s top oil exporter.
The move, announced on Sunday, comes as Brent crude oil trades below $60 a barrel, well below the $80 to $85 a barrel that analysts say is needed to balance the Saudi budget.
Prince Abdulaziz replaces Khalid al-Falih, who was removed just days ago as board chairman of the state-owned oil giant Aramco, a company that he once ran as CEO.
Al-Falih, who was named energy minister in 2016, also had seen his cabinet portfolio diminished in a royal decree last week creating a new ministry of mining and industry, removing that sector from the purview of the energy ministry.
The changes come as Saudi Arabia renews its push to sell shares in Aramco as part of a wider plan by the crown prince to overhaul the economy and prepare the country for a future less dependent on oil.
Aramco’s new board chairman, announced last week, is the finance-minded Yasir al-Rumayyan, who heads the Public Investment Fund, the country’s sovereign wealth fund. Al-Rumayyan is also a close adviser to the crown prince.
The kingdom’s new energy minister, Abdulaziz, was named deputy oil minister in 1995, a position he held for nearly a decade. He then served as assistant oil minister until 2017, when he was named minister of state for energy affairs, and has been a longstanding member of the country’s delegation to Opec.
Some industry insiders say the prince’s lengthy experience has overcome what has been seen as the impossibility of appointing a royal to the post of energy minister. Saudi Arabia has had five oil ministers since 1960 and none of them has been a royal.
Conventional thinking has been that the ruling Al Saud family has viewed the oil portfolio as so important that giving it to a prince might upset the dynasty’s delicate balance of power and risk making oil policy hostage to princely politicking, Saudi sources and diplomats say.
The king also issued a royal decree removing the current deputy minister of energy, Abdulaziz al-Abdulkarim. He did not name a new deputy energy minister.
The king did, however, name Osama bin Abdulaziz Al-Zamil as deputy minister for the new ministry of industry and mining. The decrees, issued early Sunday, were published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.