Qatar Emir consolidates power with first major government reshuffle

Friday 22/01/2016
Changes in the region represent important challenge

DOHA - Qatar announced a major reshuffle of its cabinet Wednesday and merged several government departments, state media announced, as the energy-rich emirate deals with the financial fallout from lower oil prices.

Key positions such as the top jobs in the labour and foreign ministries changed in a move seen as consolidating the power of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who was announcing his first major reshuffle since taking power in 2013.

Combining ministries was also seen as significant in a Gulf state spooked by falling oil prices and which has warned it will run its first budget deficit in 15 years during 2016.

Seven ministerial changes were announced by the official Qatar News Agency.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, a member of the royal family, replaced Khalid al-Attiyah as foreign minister, the QNA said.

The 35-year-old is a senior official who was previously in charge of international cooperation in the foreign ministry.

Attiyah, whose father was the founder of Qatar\'s armed forces, was appointed minister of state for defence. The emir himself holds the post of defence minister.

And Issa bin Saad al-Naimi Juffali was awarded the new position of minister for administrative development and labour and social affairs.

He replaces labour minister Abdullah bin Saleh al-Khulaifi at one of the country\'s most high-profile cabinet posts because of international criticism of Doha\'s record on migrant workers\' rights.

As notable as the announcement of new faces was the fact that several departments would be merged, which some see as a cost-cutting measure.

Among the newly combined ministries is not only administrative development and labour, but also the departments of culture and sports, transport and communications, and municipality and the environment.

Previously, these were separate departments.

\"No doubt this has to do with reducing spending and preventing sagging,\" Jamal Abdullah, Head of Gulf Studies at Al-Jazeera Centre, told AFP.

\"Especially as a number of ministries intersect tasks and responsibilities, such as communications and transportation, municipal and environment.\"

Qatar has already forecast a budget deficit of more than $12 billion in 2016 -- and that could increase as it was calculated at an oil price of $48 per barrel. The current price is around $32.

In addition, the emir warned last December of \"wasteful spending, overstaffing and a lack of accountability\" across Qatar.

Abdullah also noted that the changes would help \"pump young blood into the Qatar decision-making machine\", especially the appointment of a new, relatively young foreign minister.

One post which remained the same was that of prime minister, which has been held by Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani since 2013.

Also, one woman was named in the reshuffle -- Hanan al-Kuwari, who becomes the new minister of health.

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