Saudi Arabia's government passed the latest in its series of royal decrees April 22, enacting a raft of changes related to key political posts and government expenditures. This particular decree, among other things, restored ministers' pay to pre-September 2016 levels — overturning a 20 percent cut — and reinstated bonuses for civil service employees. In addition, it provided two month's additional pay for Saudi soldiers fighting in Yemen. According to Saudi Finance Minister Mohammad Al Jadaan, the changes were possible because the budget deficit for the first quarter of 2017 was less than anticipated, 26 billion riyals ($6.93 billion) rather than the projected 54 billion riyals.
There are a number of reasons why Riyadh is making amendments. When cuts were first enacted because of financial pressures and the demands of economic reform, Saudi civil servants protested online, repeatedly calling for protests in major cities, though none actually materialized. The restored pay is at least partly a response to this public pressure and the fear of simmering unrest. But the Saudi government is also trying to engender trust among the public, showing flexibility and proving that it will walk back temporary cuts when circumstances allow.
The Royal decree also prescribed a number of personnel changes. A handful of young Saudi princes were given deputy governor roles throughout the Kingdom, likely in an effort to groom them for public service and to secure jobs for the burgeoning ranks of royals seeking prominent positions. Notably, Prince Khaled bin Salman, a young son of King Salman, has been named the new U.S. ambassador. The young prince flew as a Royal Air Force pilot in the anti-Islamic State coalition over Iraq and Syria as well as in the Gulf Cooperation Council-led mission in Yemen. After his active duty service ended, Prince Khaled held a position in the Saudi defense department and then worked at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, his last post before being appointed ambassador on April 23. He will replace Faisal bin Turki, and it is believed his appointment will help provide a more direct line between Washington and Riyadh on security-related issues, in part because of Prince Khaled's focus on defense and his closeness to his monarch father.
A number of lower-level ministers were replaced as well, along with a couple of regional governors. The moves seem to be a continuation of the process that King Salman began this time last year, when he decided to overhaul the country's economy by putting his son in charge of the economic development functions of the state and appointing younger, reform-minded officials.