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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Saudi Shake-Up Ousts 2 Ministers

CAIRO -- King Fahd of Saudi Arabia has replaced his oil and finance ministers in the biggest Cabinet shake-up since the Saudi monarch came to power in 1982.


Fahd's four brothers retained their key Cabinet posts in the shake-up Wednesday, as first deputy prime minister and ministers of defense, interior and public works; Fahd's nephew remains foreign minister.


No reason was given for the change, which is customary in the Saudis' secretive process of decision making. Saudi-watchers said they were unaware of any tension between the ousted ministers and the royal family.


In the shuffle, Suleiman bin Abdel-Azis al-Sulaim, the commerce minister, replaces Mohammed Abalkhail as finance and national economy minister. Ali bin Ibrahim al-Naimi, president of the Aramco oil company, replaces Hisham Nazer, who has been oil minister for nine years, since the charismatic Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani was fired.


For Naimi, who now assumes international prominence as oil minister for the world's largest oil exporter, his ascension marks a rags-to-riches climb to the top that seems more typical of American than Saudi society.


Naimi, a slight, bespectacled man of 60, was born in the desert and for the first seven years of his life wandered the endless expanses with his mother's Bedouin tribe, tending sheep. At 11, he took a job as an office boy at Aramco, filling a vacancy created by the death of his brother, Abdullah, from pneumonia.


He became a clerk, learned shorthand and typing and earned a scholarship to study in Beirut.


Later, when he decided to switch from administration to geology, an Aramco personnel officer interviewing him asked why.


"Because I want to be president of the company," he replied.


"I meant it facetiously, of course," Naimi recalled in an interview with the Los Angeles Times some years ago. "I didn't even realize then that almost all of Aramco's presidents and chairmen of the board had been geologists. But the gentleman interviewing me thought my reason was as good as any, and he let me make the change."


Naimi -- knowing he was the last of a now largely settled Bedouin generation -- received a degree in geology from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and a master's from California's Stanford University.


In 1984, he became Aramco's first Saudi chief executive, a position held by Americans during the previous half century.


Naimi becomes oil minister at a time when Saudi Arabia, though still one of the world's richest nations, faces severe budget restraints, due in part to the Gulf War of 1991, which cost the kingdom tens of billions of dollars.


Since the war, the Saudis have been cutting back on their once-lavish spending and reducing the scale of some infrastructure projects.


Additionally, with oil prices hovering around $18 a barrel, the Saudis' income has been reduced and they and other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, have seen their share of the oil market dwindle as North Sea producers have pumped more supplies to meet world demand.