Saudi oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani dies at 90

Ahmed Zaki Yamani – a longtime oil minister in Saudi Arabia who ruled the kingdom through the 1973 oil crisis and the nationalization of his state-owned energy company, and then found himself kidnapped by assassin Carlos the Jackal – died in London. He was 90 years old.

Saudi state television reported his death on Tuesday without mentioning a cause. He said he would be buried in the holy city of Mecca.

Known for his Western-style business suits and soft, measured tones, Yamani helped Saudi Arabia establish itself in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) from birth. The kingdom remains a heavyweight of the group even today and its decisions are reflected in the oil industry, affecting prices per barrel at the gas pump.

“For the global oil industry, politicians and senior officials, journalists and the whole world, Yamani has become the representative, and even the symbol, of the new era of petroleum,” author Daniel Yergin wrote in his founding book on the petroleum industry, the price.

“His face, with his large, limpid brown eyes, seemingly unblinking, and his cropped, slightly curved Van Dyke beard, has become familiar to the planet.

The petroleum weapon

Yamani became minister of petroleum in 1962 and will lead the ministry until 1986. He played a crucial role in the fledgling OPEC oil cartel as producers around the world began to try to dictate prices in the world market. previously dominated by the economic policies of Western countries.

Yamani was the first Saudi representative to the OPEC board of governors in 1961. From his position, he became known for an always-calm style of negotiation that Saudi ministers after him sought to emulate.

But that style for an oil kingpin known to the honorary “sheikh” would be tested by the times, which included upheavals in the global energy market. This was especially true during the October 1973 war, in which Egypt, Syria, and its allies launched a surprise attack on Israel on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.

When the United States under President Richard Nixon decided to back Israel, Arab producers in OPEC agreed to cut their supply by 5% per month. When Nixon continued his support, the decision spawned what would become “the oil weapon” – a total embargo on the United States and other countries.

Prices in the United States would increase by 40 percent, leading to gasoline shortages and long runs at the pump. World oil prices would quadruple, leading to the wealth we see today in the Arab Gulf States.

Cheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, right, addresses US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Paris in 1975 [AP]

Taken hostage

In 1975, Yamani met twice at major points in history.

He was there when a nephew of King Faisal assassinated the monarch in March.

In December, he found himself among those held hostage at OPEC headquarters in Vienna, an attack that killed three people and saw 11 seized. The attack ended up seeing all the pro-Palestinian assailants, led by “Carlos the Jackal” and the hostages freed.

Yamani subsequently described Carlos, a Venezuelan whose real name is Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, as a “ruthless terrorist who operates with surgical precision in cold blood”. From that point on, Yamani traveled with an entourage of bodyguards wherever he went.

Yamani also oversaw what would become the full nationalization of Arabian American Oil Co after the 1973 oil crisis. Today, it is better known as Saudi Arabian Oil Co, or Aramco, a major employer in the kingdom. and its main source of income.

In 1986, Saudi King Fahd sacked Yamani in a terse statement released by the state-run Saudi News Agency. At the time, it was believed that Yamani disagreed with the king in his insistence that OPEC develop a permanent system of production quotas and the kingdom would receive a larger share of the total. Saudi Arabia finally agreed to another interim deal.

Yamani was born in Mecca in 1930. His father and grandfather were religious teachers and Islamic lawyers. He eventually studied at New York University and Harvard. Twice married, he is survived by several children and grandchildren.

Yamani, on the left, meets West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in 1975 [Klaus Schlagmann/AP]

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