Saudi king appoints son to head Mecca province

RIYADH (REUTERS) - Saudi King Abdullah on Sunday appointed his son Prince Mishaal as governor of Mecca Province, one of the most prominent jobs in the country, the latest move in a rolling reshuffle of senior ruling family members over the past two years.

He replaces Prince Khaled al-Faisal, who has been made education minister, a move that may revive stalled educational reforms aimed at reducing the influence of religious conservatives, Saudi analysts said.

The appointments were announced in a royal decree carried by state media in the world's top oil exporter, where moves among senior princes are closely watched for their impact on the country's opaque succession process.

Since 2011, a series of deaths, retirements and promotions mean most top government positions held by princes, plus the three top provincial governor jobs, have switched hands after decades with little change.

Analysts have said the changes reflect a desire by King Abdullah, who is thought to be 90, to establish his sons and other allies in key positions for the future.

"Appointing a son of the king to one of the major governorates in the kingdom is noteworthy. He is giving his sons a big chance to have a place in the succession process," said Khaled al-Dakhil, a Saudi political scientist.

He has appointed his son Miteb as minister of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, his son Abdulaziz as deputy foreign minister and his son Turki as deputy Riyadh governor.

Mishaal, the new Mecca governor, was previously governor of Najran province on the border with Yemen.

The job of Mecca governor carries big administrative responsibilities because the province has a large population, as well as symbolic importance through its guardianship of Islam's holiest site and hosting of the annual haj pilgrimage.