Kingdom not in crisis, says new Saudi FM

Ibrahim Al-Assaf, the new Saudi foreign minister, speaks to AFP at his residence in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on December 28, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 28 December 2018

Kingdom not in crisis, says new Saudi FM

  • Reshuffle designed to have the best in Cabinet: Official
  • Al-Assaf previously served as finance minister for two decades until 2016

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s new foreign minister on Friday said the recently announced government reshuffle is part of Saudi Arabia’s transformation plans, rejecting the Kingdom was in crisis and his predecessor was demoted.

“The issue of Jamal Khashoggi... really saddened us, all of us,” Ibrahim Al-Assaf told AFP, a day after he was appointed foreign minister in a government reshuffle.

“But all in all, we are not going through a crisis, we are going through a transformation,” he added, referring to social and economic reforms spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Al-Assaf replaced Adel Al-Jubeir as foreign minister in the sweeping government shake-up ordered by King Salman. Responding to claims that Al-Jubeir was demoted, Al-Assaf said: “This is far from the truth. Adel represented Saudi Arabia and will continue to represent Saudi Arabia... around the world. We complement each other.”

Asked whether his biggest foreign policy challenge was to repair the Kingdom’s reputation, Al-Assaf said: “I wouldn’t say ‘repair’ because the relationship between my country and a vast majority of countries in the world is in excellent shape.”

Al-Assaf said his appointment as the top diplomat would help bring his financial experience to foreign affairs amid a current “dip” in the economy. 

The reshuffle of the government was expected as the Cabinet must be replaced and reappointed by royal order every four years, according to a statement from the government communications office. “The reshuffle is designed to ensure that the Cabinet has the best combination of the experience and know-how to meet the needs of the Kingdom over the coming four years,” a government official said in the statement. 

Saudi sources deny ‘unsubstantiated’ reports of permitting alcohol

Updated 16 June 2019

Saudi sources deny ‘unsubstantiated’ reports of permitting alcohol

  • “The leadership has made it clear from day one; it is simply not happening,”SCTH source tells Arab News
  • The SCTH is responsible for licensing and rating hotels and restaurants

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has no plans to allow the sale or public consumption of alcohol, a senior government source has told Arab News.

The official with access to relevant decision-makers categorically denied “unsubstantiated” media reports in some international and regional news outlets.

“If you read the fake news, you will notice it is all based on hearsay and tweets by accounts known to have a questionable agenda when talking about the Kingdom,” he said.

“As the country moves forward with its reform plans, we expect much speculation and attempts by critics to hold us back. And while people are allowed to speculate and criticize, their speculation should not be treated as the truth.”

A second source at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) also denied such reports. “The leadership has made it clear from day one; it is simply not happening,” he told Arab News. “I have not heard of any plans to allow alcohol in major cities, free zones or new projects.”

The SCTH is responsible for licensing and rating hotels and restaurants. Any plans for the sale or consumption of alcohol would have to go through the commission for implementation. 

Saudi Arabia has witnessed substantial social reforms over the past three years, such as the curbing of the previously unchecked power of the religious police, reopening cinemas and allowing women to drive.

There has also been a major shift on previously prohibited public entertainment and gender mixing. International artists including Mariah Carey, Yanni, Andrea Bocelli, Enrique Iglesias and Black Eyed Peas have all performed.

Tourism projects have included pop-up versions of international restaurants such as Signor Sassi, Nusr-Et and Nobu. None has served alcohol.

“Officials have repeatedly said all changes were and will always be in line with Islamic teachings and traditions,” the senior source told Arab News.