Skip to main content

Saudi Arabia appoints Prince Faisal bin Farhan as new foreign minister

King Salman relieves Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz al-Assaf of his duties after only 10 months on the job
Prince Faisal previously served as the Saudi ambassador to Germany (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia's King Salman has appointed Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah as foreign minister, the kingdom's official news agency SPA reported, as the country continues to struggle to rehabilitate its reputation amid global criticism.

The move, announced on Wednesday, relieves Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz al-Assaf of his duties only 10 months after he was promoted to the foreign minister post.

Prince Faisal previously served as Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Germany and as a senior adviser at the country's embassy in the United States, where he helped manage its "engagement with US media, experts and opinion leaders".

He also previously chaired several economic initiatives, including Aerospace Industries, a joint venture between US company Boeing and the Saudi government.

After the announcement, Prince Faisal expressed gratitude to Saudi King Salman for his appointment.

In a statement, he praised the king's "vision ... for enhancing Saudi diplomatic work", SPA reported.

This is the second shake-up to the country's foreign affairs portfolio in the past year, as Riyadh has been under increased global pressure over its human rights record and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In late December, amid global outrage over Khashoggi's killing, longtime Saudi diplomat and foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir was demoted to minister of state for foreign affairs.

Jamal Khashoggi's long shadow
Read More »

His position was taken up by Assaf, a long-serving finance minister and board member of national oil giant Saudi Aramco.

At the time, Assaf insisted Saudi Arabia was "not in crisis" amidst a backlash over the murder of Khashoggi, a prominent Washington Post and Middle East Eye columnist.

"The issue of Jamal Khashoggi... really saddened us, all of us," Assaf told AFP.

"But all in all, we are not going through a crisis, we are going through a transformation."

A Saudi government hit squad killed Khashoggi on 2 October 2018 inside the country's consulate in Istanbul. 

The CIA and a UN expert concluded that the country's powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was ultimately responsible for the murder.

Despite his demotion and anger over the Khashoggi assassination, Jubeir appeared to continue to lead the kingdom's diplomacy this year.

He represented Saudi Arabia in international forums and meetings in Washington, while Assaf's public appearances remained sparse.

When he replaced Saud bin Faisal Al Saud in 2015, Jubeir became only the second Saudi foreign minister to be from outside the royal family.

Prince Faisal, the new foreign minister, is a member of the Saudi royal family, but he is not a direct descendant of the modern kingdom's founder, Abdulaziz Al Saud.

As part of Wednesday's government reshuffle, outgoing foreign minister Assaf will stay on as minister of state, while Saleh al-Jasser, director general of Saudi Arabian Airlines, replaced Nabil al-Amoudi as transport minister.

Controversies

In his post as the Saudi ambassador to Germany, Prince Faisal expressed hardline views against Iran.

After an attack on Saudi oil facilities in September that Washington and Riyadh blamed on Tehran, the prince refused to rule out military strikes against the Saudi rival.

"Of course everything is on the table but you have to discuss that well," Prince Faisal said at the time.

In Washington, Faisal served under Saudi Ambassador Khalid bin Salman - the younger brother of the crown prince - who faced calls for expulsion from the US after Khashoggi's murder.

Late last year, the Washington Post reported that Prince Khalid directed the slain journalist to the consulate in Istanbul after Khashoggi first sought personal documents from the kingdom's embassy in Washington to marry his Turkish fiancee.

Call for coup in Saudi: Dissident prince urges uncles to seize power
Read More »

After denying the allegations, Prince Khalid was promoted to deputy defence minister, and he has since maintained his relationship with top officials in Washington.

After Faisal's appointment as ambassador to Germany in February, Khalid thanked him for his service in Washington in a congratulatory tweet in which he called him "my brother".

A Germany-based Saudi dissident prince, Khaled bin Farhan, told German news outlet DW Arabic at the time that he feared the new ambassador - who is his cousin - was sent to Berlin to persecute dissidents.

"I wouldn't deny that I feel threatened, as I may be targeted by his appointment," he said.

In an interview with Middle East Eye in January, Khaled bin Farhan called on senior Saudi princes, Ahmed and Muqrin, to topple their brother King Salman and save the kingdom from his son Mohammed.

"'I seize this opportunity to appeal to my uncles Ahmed and Muqrin, who are the sons of  Abdulaziz… to do something to change things for the better," he told MEE.