RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Saturday replaced the labor minister and set up new government bodies to promote culture and protect the environment as the kingdom seeks to modernize and create jobs for an overwhelmingly young population.
Private sector businessman Ahmed bin Suleiman al-Rajhi was named minister of labor and social development, succeeding Ali bin Nasser al-Ghafis, according to royal orders published by state media.
Getting hundreds of thousands of unemployed Saudis into the workforce is a major challenge for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who oversees economic policy for the world’s top oil exporter, where unemployment stands at 12.8 percent.
The Gulf Arab state, which has struggled for years to create jobs for its nationals, aims to create 1.2 million jobs by 2022 to reduce unemployment to 9 percent, a senior labor ministry official has told Reuters.
The reform-minded crown prince is trying to diversify the Arab world’s largest economy away from oil exports and open up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles by easing strict social rules and promoting entertainment in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.
King Salman on Saturday also appointed Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al al-Sheikh as minister of Islamic affairs, call and guidance.
The royal orders set up a new Ministry of Culture, extracting it from the information ministry as part of a drive to capture more Saudi leisure spending at home amid a budget deficit caused by low oil prices.
Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud was named culture minister. He already has several top positions, including governor of a commission to develop a historic tourism destination and chairman of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, which is closely linked to King Salman’s branch of the royal family.
King Salman also ordered formation of royal commissions for the environment and the holy city of Mecca, and an administration for preserving the historical area of Jeddah.
The royal orders also named several new deputies in the ministries of interior, telecommunications, transport and energy, and appointed new heads to the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu and the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin, Marwa Rashad and Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Sandra Maler, Toni Reinhold)