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Saudi Arabia’s former oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani dies at 90

Published: Updated:

Saudi Arabia’s former oil minister, Ahmed Zaki Yamani, has died at the age of 90 on Tuesday in London, UK, according to Okaz Newspaper.

The former minister will be buried in his hometown, the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Okaz added.

Okaz is a Saudi Arabian daily newspaper.

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Yamani helped Saudi Arabia command a dominating presence in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) from its birth. The Kingdom remains a heavyweight in the group even today and its decisions ripple through the oil industry, affecting prices from the barrel down to the gasoline pump.

“To the global oil industry, to politicians and senior civil servants, to journalists and to the world at large, Yamani became the representative, and indeed the symbol, of the new age of oil,” author Daniel Yergin wrote in his seminal book on the oil industry “The Prize.”

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

Yamani was the first Saudi representative on OPEC’s board of governors in 1961.

When the US, under President Richard Nixon, moved to support Israel in the 1973 Mideast War, Arab producers in OPEC agreed to cut their supply by 5 percent a month.

When Nixon continued his support, the decision gave birth to what would become known as the “oil weapon” — a total embargo on the US and other countries.

Prices in the US would rise by 40 percent, leading to gasoline shortages and long lines at the pump. Oil prices globally would quadruple, leading to the wealth now seen across the Gulf Arab states today.

In December 1975, Yamani found himself among those taken 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 militants and those held hostage released.

Afterward, Yamani described Carlos, a Venezuelan whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, as a “ruthless terrorist who operates with cold-blooded, surgical precision.” From that moment on, Yamani traveled with an entourage of bodyguards everywhere he went.

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

In 1986, Saudi King Fahd relieved Yamani of his duties.

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

With The Associated Press

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