Saudi King Appoints a Son, Prince Abdulaziz, as Energy Minister

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BEIRUT, Lebanon — King Salman of Saudi Arabia on Sunday named his son Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman as energy minister, putting a member of the royal family for the first time in one of the kingdom’s most important roles, as part of a wider shake-up of top energy-sector jobs.

The appointment of Prince Abdulaziz, an older half brother of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, brings to an end a long line of commoner technocrats charged with overseeing energy policy for the world’s largest oil exporter.

Prince Abdulaziz, who has been minister of state for energy affairs since 2017, replaces Khalid al-Falih, who was removed last week as board chairman of Aramco, a company that he once ran as chief executive. The move announced on Sunday is likely to surprise oil market participants, who had mostly assumed that the departing energy minister would retain that portfolio, which includes sway over Saudi production policy.

Mr. al-Falih was perhaps the most closely watched figure in the oil industry, and his words are carefully weighed by the markets. He was long seen as a key player in the kingdom’s reform plans, but his removal from the Aramco board has prompted speculation that Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, believed he had failed to make sufficient progress on the reforms.

Last month, the king created a new ministry to oversee mining and industry, removing those sectors from the control of the Energy Ministry.

The moves come as Saudi Arabia struggles with low oil prices while seeking to make the country less dependent on oil. It is also seeking to publicly sell shares of the state-owned oil giant, Saudi Aramco, to raise money to pay for a sweeping overhaul of the kingdom.

Until Prince Abdulaziz was named energy minister, the task of overseeing energy policy for the world’s largest oil exporter had traditionally fallen to commoner technocrats. Members of the Saudi royal family tended to stay out of the oil business, the thinking being that it was better to leave it to the professionals and not risk oil policy getting tied up in royal intrigue.

Prince Abdulaziz was an exception. He earned a master’s degree in industrial management from the University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, and served as an adviser to a previous energy minister, Ali al-Naimi.

A veteran oil diplomat, Prince Abdulaziz has long been a fixture at O.P.E.C. meetings and other energy gatherings. He is well regarded by people in the industry, including officials from countries like Iran that are at odds with Saudi Arabia.

More recently, Prince Abdulaziz served as deputy oil minister and minister of state for energy affairs. Because of his long experience in the sector, analysts did not expect him to significantly change the kingdom’s energy policies.

Mr. al-Falih was replaced by Yasir al-Rumayyan, who lacks significant experience in the oil sector but who is close to Prince Mohammed and leads the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund.

The removal of Mr. al-Falih appears to indicate dissatisfaction on the part of the Saudi leadership with oil prices, but analysts say that Prince Abdulaziz will have a difficult time improving on the performance of his predecessor.

“The challenge for the new minister is the same as for the old minister,” said Bill Farren-Price, a director at RS Energy, a market research firm. “The leadership may want to see prices much higher than they are at the moment, but it is difficult to see how to achieve that without Saudi Arabia cutting a lot more.”

Since becoming oil minister, Mr. al-Falih orchestrated production cuts with Russia and Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries that did help boost prices, which had fallen below $30 a barrel for Brent crude, the international benchmark. to the current levels of around $$62 per barrel.

Strong production growth from the United States has offset the cutbacks from Saudi Arabia and other producers. In addition, worries about a weakening global economy that might reduce demand for oil have weighed on prices in recent months.

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