Ahmed Zaki Yamani, former Saudi oil minister, dies at 90


Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Saudi Arabia’s powerful oil minister and architect of the Arab world’s push to control its own energy resources in the 1970s and its subsequent ability to affect oil production, fuel prices, and international affairs, died in London. He was 90 years old.

His death was announced Tuesday on Saudi state television.

In an era of turbulent energy policy, Yamani, a Harvard-trained lawyer, spoke on behalf of Arab oil producers on a world stage as the industry weathered the Arab-Israeli wars, a revolution in Iran and growing pains. Global demand for oil drove the governments of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states into realms of unimaginable wealth. He crossed Europe, Asia and the Americas to promote Arab oil interests, met with government leaders, appeared on television, and became widely known. Wearing a flowing Arabic robe or Savile Row outfit, speaking English or French, he crossed cultures, loved classical European music, and wrote Arabic poetry.

Overall, Yamani fought for price stability and orderly markets, but he is best known for engineering a 1973 oil embargo that led to skyrocketing world prices, gasoline shortages, and a search for smaller cars, sources of energy. renewable energy and independence from Arab oil.

As Minister of Petroleum of Saudi Arabia from 1962 to 1986, Mr. Yamani was the most powerful commoner in a kingdom that possessed some of the largest oil reserves in the world. For nearly 25 years, he was also the dominant official of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, whose rising and falling quotas of production rippled like tides on world markets.

In 1972, Yamani moved to wrest control of the Gulf’s vast oil reserves from Aramco, the consortium of four US oil companies that had long exploited them. While Arab leaders demanded the nationalization of Aramco, an acquisition that could have cost American marketing and technical expertise as well as capital, Yamani adopted a more moderate strategy.

Under the historic “participation” agreement negotiated by Mr. Yamani, Saudi Arabia won the rights to acquire 25 percent of the foreign concessions immediately and to gradually increase its interests to a majority stake. Meanwhile, Aramco continued to operate its concessions, benefiting from the extraction, refining and marketing of oil, although it had to pay much higher fees to the Saudi government.

The agreement kept the oil flowing into a dependent industrialized world and provided time for Arab oil producers to develop their own technical and marketing expertise. These developments eventually brought enormous prosperity to the Gulf states and a drastic shift in economic and political power in the region.

In 1973, after Israel defeated Egypt and Syria in the Yom Kippur War and Arab leaders demanded the use of oil as a political weapon, Yamani designed an embargo to pressure the United States and other allies to withdraw support for Israel. and to Israel. withdraw from occupied Arab lands. The embargo sent shockwaves across the world, caused a breakdown in the North Atlantic alliance, and tipped Japan and other nations toward the Arabs.

But the United States held the line. President Richard M. Nixon created an energy czar. Gasoline rationing and price controls were imposed. There were long lines and occasional fights at the pump. While inflation persisted for years, there was a new emphasis on energy exploration and conservation, including, for a time, a national speed limit of 55 miles per hour on highways.

A tall man with thoughtful eyes and a Van Dyke goatee, Mr. Yamani surprised Westerners by being polite, cunning, and tenacious.

“He talks quietly and never hits the table,” a US oil executive told The New York Times. “When the discussions get hot, he becomes more patient. In the end, he gets away with what seems like sweet good sense, but it’s kind of tough. “

In 1975, Yamani had two brushes with violence. Their patron, King Faisal, was assassinated by a royal nephew in Riyadh. Nine months later, he and other OPEC ministers were taken hostage by terrorists led by Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, also known as Carlos the Jackal.

For years after the embargo, Yamani struggled to contain oil prices, believing that the Saudi long-term interest was to prolong global dependence on affordable oil. But the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in the 1979 Islamic Revolution triggered an energy crisis. Iranian production plummeted, prices skyrocketed, panic buying began, rising OPEC stocks flooded the market, and prices fell again.

In 1986, after a prolonged oil glut in the world and disagreements between Yamani and the royal family over quotas and prices, King Fahd removed the oil minister, ending his 24 years as Saudi Arabia’s most famous non-royal. .

Ahmed Zaki Yamani was born on June 30, 1930 in Mecca, the holy pilgrimage city of Islam, one of the three sons of Hassan Yamani, a judge of Islamic law. The surname originated in Yemen, the land of their ancestors. The boy was devoutly religious and got up early to pray before school. Sent abroad for higher education, he obtained degrees from King Fuad I University in Cairo in 1951, New York University in 1955 and Harvard Law School in 1956.

He and Laila Sulleiman Faidhi married in 1955 and had three children. His second wife was Tamam al-Anbar; they married in 1975 and had five children.

In 1958, the royal family recruited him to advise Crown Prince Faisal, and his rise was rapid. In one year, he was Minister of State without portfolio, and in 1962 Minister of Petroleum. In 1963, Mr. Yamani and Aramco jointly founded a Saudi Arabian College of Petroleum and Minerals to teach Arab students about the petroleum industry.

After his dismissal as Minister of Petroleum, Yamani became a consultant, businessman and investor and settled in Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland. In 1982, he joined other financiers at Investcorp, a Bahrain-based private equity firm. In 1990, he founded the Center for Global Energy Research, a London market research group. In 1989 a biography, “Yamani: The Inside Story,” by Jeffrey Robinson was published.

Ben hubbard contributed to inform.

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