January 6, 2014 / 5:56 PM / in 4 years

UPDATE 1-Kuwait appoints Islamist MP as oil minister in reshuffle

* MP Ali Saleh al-Omair is new oil minister

* Former commerce minister Anas al-Saleh to head Finance Ministry (Adds background and details)

By Sylvia Westall

KUWAIT, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Major oil producer Kuwait appointed an Islamist lawmaker as oil minister on Monday as part of a government reshuffle triggered by political tensions, although the move is unlikely to affect energy policy.

Ali Saleh al-Omair, who replaces Mustapha al-Shamali as oil minister, is part of a group of Salafi Islamist politicians who are generally cooperative with the government. He was elected as a member of parliament in July.

Anas al-Saleh, a former minister for commerce and industry, was selected to head the Finance Ministry, replacing Sheikh Salem Abdulaziz al-Sabah, who has repeatedly criticised high government spending in Kuwait.

Saleh is part of a younger generation of ministers in the country and worked at financial companies in Kuwait after studying business administration at the University of Portland in the United States.

The Finance Ministry was carrying out a review of Kuwait’s costly subsidies policy just before the cabinet resignations.

The ministers were part of a reshuffle approved by Kuwait’s ruler, state news agency KUNA said, citing a royal decree.

Although it is not the first time that an MP has become oil minister in the hand-picked cabinet, it is unusual for a lawmaker to hold the position, which involves representing Kuwait at OPEC meetings.

Kuwait’s energy policy is set by a Supreme Petroleum Council, so frequent ministerial changes have little effect.

Like their counterparts elsewhere in the Middle East, Salafis in Kuwait espouse a puritanical interpretation of Islam but they are unusual for their active engagement in Kuwait’s often turbulent political system.

Kuwait is a U.S. ally and one of the world’s richest countries in terms of per capita income. Like other wealthy Gulf Arab countries does not tax earnings and provides a generous welfare system for its citizens.

Several members of the cabinet resigned last month after friction between MPs and ministers in the cabinet, in which members of the ruling al-Sabah family hold top posts.

Al-Sabah family members retained posts including the ministries of foreign affairs, interior and defence in the reshuffle.

Kuwait’s June elections were the sixth since 2006 and continual changes in the parliament and cabinet have slowed the implementation of development plans and economic reforms.

Saleh will face the difficult task of trying to change Kuwait’s spending habits and implement economic reform. This is likely to prove unpopular with parliament members who call for increased benefits for Kuwaiti nationals. (Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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