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Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Former Saudi Oil Minister, Dies at 90

  • February 23, 2021

“He speaks softly and never pounds the table,” one American oil executive told The New York Times. “When discussions get hot, he gets more patient. In the end, he gets his way with what seems to be sweet reasonableness, but is a kind of toughness.”

In 1975, Mr. Yamani had two brushes with violence. His 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, Mr. Yamani struggled to restrain oil prices, believing the long-term Saudi interest was to prolong global dependence on affordable oil. But the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in the 1979 Islamic Revolution touched off an energy crisis. Iranian production plummeted, prices surged, panic buying set in, increased OPEC stocks flooded the market and prices fell again.

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

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

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