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Saudi Arabia

Religious hard-liners take a hit in King's reshuffle

Article published on the 2009-02-15 Latest update 2009-02-15 15:17 TU

Saudi King Abdullah is greeted by Saudi Princes at his palace(Photo: Reuters)

Saudi King Abdullah is greeted by Saudi Princes at his palace
(Photo: Reuters)

King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud has fired a number of religious hard-liners from top posts in Saudi Arabia and appointed the country's first-ever woman minister. The chief of the religious police, the head of the top Islamic clerics' body and the head of the highest tribunal have all been replaced.

"His Majesty has announced last year that he wanted to reform the judiciary system and his decision was resisted," points out Ibrahim Mugaiteeb of the Human Rights First Society, who dubs the reshuffle "a small earthquake" but hopes that more reforms will follow.

Reaction: Ibrahim Mugaiteeb from the Human Rights First Society

15/02/2009 by Daniel Finnan

Among the posts that have been changed are:

* The chief of the religious police: Out goes Sheikh Ibrahim al-Ghaith, who had led an aggressive campaign to enforce strict moral observance, such as enforcing strict separation of the sexes;

* The head of the Supreme Judicial Council: Out goes Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaidan, who issued an edict in September that ruled it permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV stations broadcasting content judged immoral;

* The Education Minister: Abdallah's son-in-law Prince Faisal bin Abdallah becomes takes over with Norah al-Fayez, from the Institute of Public Administration, being appointed his deputy resonsible for women's education, becoming the country's first-ever female minister;

* The Consultative Council: The kingdom's national assembly is reshuffled;

* The Grand Ulema Commission: The kingdom's top body of clerics, which was previously completely controlled by the Hanbali sect, now has representatives of all four interpretations of Sunni Islam.

Mugaiteeb welcomes the change to the Ulema commission but points that there are still no Shia-Muslims on it.

Al-Fayez's appointment should lead to other changes, he hopes.

"The real need for the Saudi women is for legal identity," he says, explaining that, no matter her achievements, a woman cannot go abroad without permission from her closest male relative.

Saudi Arabia's dominant Wahhabi school of Islam also forces women to be shrouded in black from head to toe and bans them from driving.