DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Ahmed Zaki Yamani, former oil minister in Saudi Arabia who ruled the kingdom during the 1973 oil crisis, nationalized his state-owned energy company and then found himself held hostage by the assassin Carlos the Jackal, died Tuesday in London. He was 90 years old.
Saudi state television reported his death, without offering a cause. He said he would be buried in the holy Muslim city of Mecca.
Known for his Western-style business suits and muted, measured tones, Yamani helped Saudi Arabia establish itself in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries 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 world at large, Yamani has become the representative, if not the symbol, of the new era of oil,” wrote author Daniel Yergin in his founding book on the oil 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.
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 not for the hysterics who accompanied years of turmoil throughout the Middle East, but for a style still calm 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 Middle East War of 1973, 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 to 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%, leading to gasoline shortages and long lines at the pump. World oil prices would quadruple, leading to the wealth we see today in the Arab Gulf States.
In 1975, Yamani met twice at major points in history. He was standing just outside the room when a nephew of King Faisal murdered the monarch in March.
In December, Yamani found himself among those held hostage at OPEC headquarters in Vienna, an attack that killed three people and seized 11. The attack ended up seeing all pro-Palestinian militants. and those held hostage released.
Yamani later described Carlos, a Venezuelan real name 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 the Arabian American Oil Co. after the 1973 oil crisis. Today, it is better known as the Saudi Arabian Oil Co., or Aramco, a major employer. of the kingdom and its main source of income.
In 1986, Saudi King Fahd sacked Yamani with 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 that 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, when camels still roamed the streets of the holy city. 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.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.