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Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Saudi Arabia’s long-serving oil minister, who was instrumental in catapulting the kingdom into the power plant it is today, died in London. He was 90 years old.
Yamani maintained a major influence on the global stage during his nearly 25 years as oil minister, starting in 1962, and rose to fame for engineering the oil embargo in 1973.
A devout Muslim, Yaman was born in the holy city of Mecca, the son of an Islamic judge who taught him to debate and think logically. Yamani earned higher education degrees abroad, at a university in Cairo, New York University and Harvard, before returning to Saudi Arabia, where he gained a reputation as an outstanding lawyer and newspaper columnist.
This is how King Faisal came to be, who appointed Yamani oil minister, according to Ellen Wald, author of the book Saudi, Inc., a history of the kingdom ‘s oil industry. She says it was a surprising decision.
“Yamani was not an oil market specialist … he was a very smart lawyer and negotiator,” she says. “And in the late ’60s and’ 70s, that was what Saudi Arabia needed.”
At the time he took office, the United States dominated the world oil trade and Saudi Arabia was a mixed producer, not yet discovering that it has much larger sources of fuel than its neighbors. according to to The Wall Street Journal.
As oil minister, Yamani quickly consolidated the country’s reputation as head of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. After the 1973 Middle East War, in which Egypt, Syria and their allies launched an offensive against Israel, OPEC member countries demanded an oil embargo to protest Washington’s support for Israel. Crude oil prices soared and there were long lines at gas stations across the United States. And Yemen became the public face of the oil embargo, says Daniel Yergin, author of New Map, a book about energy and climate change.
“Saudi Arabia after the oil crisis of 1973, became a very rich country, a very important part of the world economy, judged by the western banks and had the income to start really developing,” he said. “And Yaman was really the man in essence.”
Also during the early 1970s, Yamani began the lengthy negotiation process for Saudi control of what was then the Arabian American Oil Co., which was controlled by four American companies: Exxon, Chevron, Mobil and Texaco. Yergin says Yamani played his cards very carefully, negotiating an agreement that allowed the kingdom to control the company, now known as Saudi Aramco, without any disruption in service.
“Saudi Arabia not only took Aramco from Western companies, it negotiated this participation. So since the 1980s, it had full control, but also ended up maintaining very good relations with those companies and asking them for technology and even for staff, “says Yergin.
Today, Aramco is one of the worlds more profitable companies.
Among the successes, Yamani also experienced traumatic moments during his time in office. In March 1975, he was present when King Faisal was shot dead by a monarch grandson.
Later that year, Yamani’s life was again in danger. In December 1975, the Venezuelan assassin Carlos Çakalli and five others attacked an OPEC meeting in Vienna, killing three people and taking Yamani and dozens of others hostage.
“It was a very traumatic experience for him because he was … threatened several times by terrorists,” says Wald, who is an elderly non-resident friend at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center.
Yamani was fired in 1986 after clashing with senior members of the Saudi royal family, including King Faud, over oil prices and production.
Although the cause of death was not reported immediately, Yamani was believed to be in poor health in the last years of his life. He will be buried in Mecca.
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