Ahmed Zaki Yamani

For other people named Ahmad Zaki, see Ahmad Zaki (disambiguation).
Ahmed Zaki Yamani

Ahmad Zaki Yamani, 1981
Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources
In office
9 March 1962  5 October 1986
Preceded by Abdullah Tariki
Succeeded by Hisham Nazer
Personal details
Born (1930-06-30) 30 June 1930
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Nationality Saudi Arabian
Alma mater Cairo University
New York University
Harvard Law School
University of Exeter
Religion Islam

Ahmed Zaki Yamani (Arabic: أحمد زكي يماني; born 30 June 1930) is a Saudi Arabian politician who was Minister of Oil (Petroleum) and Mineral Resources from 1962 to 1986, and a minister in OPEC for 25 years.

With degrees from various institutions including New York University School of Law, Harvard Law School, and a doctorate from the University of Exeter, Yamani became a close adviser to the Saudi government in 1958 and then became oil minister in 1962. He is best known for his role during the 1973 oil embargo, when he spurred OPEC to quadruple the price of crude oil. During that time, Yamani gained a colourful international reputation, known in the West for both diplomatic skills and his characteristic goatee.

In December 1975, Yamani and the other OPEC ministers were taken hostage by notorious terrorist Carlos (the Jackal) in Vienna, Austria. The hostages were released after two days riding an airplane across North Africa, even though Carlos was ordered by his superiors to execute Yamani and his Iranian counterpart Jamshid Amouzegar.

In October 1986, King Fahd dismissed Yamani. He also dismissed Abdulhady Hassan Taher, who was the founder of Petromin oils (now part of Aramco) and had a major role in the Saudi oil history. The reasons for this include the Saudi government's insistence on setting its own oil policy. Another reason could have been the power of the two oilmen, since they were both running the Saudi petroleum industry. In 1990, Yamani founded the Centre for Global Energy Studies, a market analysis group.

Early life and education

Zaki Yamani was born in Mecca on 30 June 1930, one of three children. His father, Hassan Yamani, was a Qadi in the Hejaz and a respected scholar of Islamic law, acting as Grand Mufti in Indonesia and Malaysia.[1] Yamani's grandfather was Grand Mufti in Turkey.[1] The Yamani surname originates from Yemen where his paternal ancestors came from.

Yamani earned a bachelor's degree in law at King Fouad I University in Cairo in 1951.[2] Next, the Saudi government sent Yamani to New York University's Comparative Law Institute for non-American lawyers at NYU Law School and in 1955 he received a master's degree in Comparative Jurisprudence. Whilst at NYU, Yamani met his first wife, Laila, from Mosul, Iraq, and they married in the Brooklyn home of a Moroccan. With the help of an NYU professor, Yamani spent the next year at Harvard Law School earning his second Master's in 1956.


Yamani returned to the Saudi Ministry of Finance, joining the new Department of Zakat and Income Tax.[2] The same year Yamani founded his own law firm sharing his name.[2]

In 1959, Yamani was invited by Prince Faisal, then Crown Prince and Prime Minister, to work as a legal adviser to his office.[2] However, when King Saud returned to full power in 1960 with the support of the Free Princes, Faisal resigned as Prime Minister and Yamani returned to his law practice and began teaching at the University of Riyadh. According to Yamani, King Saud then offered him the position of Oil Minister but this was declined. Several months later a new cabinet was formed with Faisal as Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister and in March 1962 the incumbent Oil Minister and founding father of OPEC, Abdullah Tariki, was replaced by Ahmed Zaki Yamani.[2]

Although clearly distinguished from his fiery predecessor by both his supporters and detractors, Yamani had a common goal with Tariki in moving toward the nationalisation of Aramco, the operating oil company in the country. In 1962 the General Petroleum and Mineral Organization (Petromin) was established, designed to become the national oil company. In 1964 University of Petroleum and Minerals was established, with the aim of producing Saudis with the skills to manage this company in the future. However, Yamani's plans for increased Saudi control of oil resources were only made public in 1968 during a speech at the American University in Beirut (AUB), where he talked of "participation" as opposed to nationalisation. Following OPEC negotiations in 1972, the Saudi government bought 25% ownership of Aramco. From 1974, Saudi participation increased to 60% and in 1976 total Saudi ownership was agreed, with payments completed in 1980.

As Oil Minister of oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Yamani took an important role in the development of the newly created OPEC. From early on, Yamani was noted as having a "moderate" oil policy. Faced with the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Yamani spoke against the use of an Arab oil embargo, to the displeasure of Israel's Arab neighbours and Iraq in particular. The 1967 embargo was ineffective, although the experience led to a consideration of the possible political benefits of an Arab-only oil organisation. Yamani took the lead role in the development of this idea and in 1968 the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries was joined by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Libya. Several other countries joined in 1970 and Egypt, Syria and militant Iraq joined in the early 1970s.

1973 oil crisis

Following the humiliation of the 1967 Six-Day War, demands for the use of oil as a political weapon intensified throughout the Arab world, with the primary aim of changing the apparent pro-Israeli policy of the US government. Overwhelming pressure for Saudi Arabia to support such action resulted from the renewal of Arab-Israeli conflict on October 1973 with the Yom Kippur War. Yamani took the initiative and planned to drop oil production initially by 10 percent alongside other OPEC members, followed by 5 percent reductions each month. This proposal was designed to gain the necessary attention from the West while preventing the tremendous economic damage that could be caused by more-radical reductions likely to be advanced by other OPEC members.

On 16 October, the six Persian Gulf members of OPEC met in Kuwait and took the decision to raise oil prices from US$3 to $5.12. This was the first time the producer countries had independently set the price of their oil. On the next day, the ten OAPEC members agreed to Shiekh Yamani's moderate production cutback proposals. An embargo to countries seen as "hostile" was also recommended but not enforced, although by 22 October all OAPEC countries had placed an embargo on the hostile nations of the United States and the Netherlands. Those countries considered friendly would not be directly affected by either decision, although "neutral" countries would.

The production cutbacks, increased to 25 percent in November, severely affected the economic health of all Western powers. To gain political support, Yamani travelled through Europe, the US and Japan with Algerian oil minister Belaid Abdesselam. Both Yamani and OPEC became well known in the West for the first time, with Yamani described as "the man of the moment" in Newsweek International's 24 December 1973 cover article. US attempts at bringing together a consumer's cartel failed, and the EEC and Japan called on Israel to withdraw from Arab territories occupied in 1967.

On 22 December, the Persian Gulf members of OPEC met again in Tehran where the Shah, backed by the other militant states, urged that the price of oil be raised to over $20 a barrel. Yamani opposed this extreme increase but could not contact Saudi Arabia from Tehran. Fearing a split in OPEC, Yamani decided on a compromise that put oil at $11.65, four times the price of a barrel prior to October 16.

Following progress with Arab-Israeli disengagement agreements, a decision was taken to end the embargo, which was formally lifted on 17 March 1974.

Saudi Arabia continued to push for price reductions from the $11.65 level, opposed by other OPEC members. This increasingly came to be seen as a pro-American stance by the other producers, although defended by Yamani as a safer option for the world economy. Saudi Arabia has been criticised for using its dominant position to force its own interests and its long-term production strategy, as a lower price enables the country to keep a high market share and discourages development of alternative energy sources that would curtail the worldwide demand for oil.[3] To this point, Yamani famously said in 1973: "The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones."[4]

Assassination of King Faisal

On 25 March 1975, King Faisal was shot dead by his nephew Faisal bin Musad. The young prince had joined a Kuwaiti delegation, led by oil minister Abdul Mutaleb Kazimi, which Yamani had escorted to the King's office. Yamani was standing next to the King when the shots were fired and, after interrogation, it was discovered that Faisal bin Musad also believed Yamani to have been shot dead in the attack.

King Faisal's death led to widespread predictions that Yamani would soon be replaced as oil minister. Faisal and Yamani are known to have had an especially strong relationship, with the King holding Yamani's opinion in high regard, even above other members of the royal family. This, along with his success before the Western media, fostered jealousy, especially amongst the Sudairi Seven and Fahd, who became Crown Prince under Faisal's frail and uninterested successor, King Khalid.

Yamani, however, continued in his role as oil minister for another eleven years after the death of Faisal, possibly buoyed by his prominent international position.

1975 hostage siege

Main article: OPEC siege

On 21 December 1975, Saudi Arabia's Yamani, Iran's Jamshid Amuzegar, and the other OPEC oil ministers were taken hostage at their semi-annual conference in Vienna, Austria. The attack, which killed three non-ministers, was carried out by a six-person team led by Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal which included Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann and Hans-Joachim Klein. The self-named "Arm of the Arab Revolution" group called for the liberation of Palestine. Carlos planned to take over the conference by force and hold for ransom all eleven attending oil ministers, except for Yamani and Amuzegar who were to be executed.[5]

Carlos arranged bus and plane travel for his team and 42 of the original 63 hostages, with stops in Algiers and Tripoli, planning to fly eventually to Baghdad, where Yamani and Amuzegar were to be killed. All 30 non-Arab hostages were released in Algiers, excluding Amuzegar. Additional hostages were released at another stop in Tripoli before returning to Algiers. With only 10 hostages remaining, Carlos held a phone conversation with Algerian President Houari Boumédienne, who informed Carlos that the oil ministers' deaths would result in an attack on the plane. Boumédienne must also have offered Carlos asylum at this time and possibly financial compensation for failing to complete his assignment. Carlos expressed his regret at not being able to murder Yamani and Amuzegar, then he and his comrades left the plane. All the hostages and terrorists walked away from the situation, two days after it began.[5]

Some time after the attack, Carlos's accomplices revealed that the operation was commanded by Wadie Haddad, a founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. They also claimed that the idea and funding came from an Arab president, widely thought to be Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi. Fellow militants Bassam Abu Sharif and Klein claimed that Carlos received and kept a ransom between US$20 million and US$50 million from "an Arab president". Carlos claimed that Saudi Arabia paid ransom on behalf of Iran, but that the money was "diverted en route and lost by the Revolution".[5][6]

Continuation of Saudi oil policy

At an OPEC meeting in September 1975 in Vienna, Saudi Arabia continued to oppose sharp increases in the price of oil. Yamani was required to gain approval from Crown Prince Fahd for any increase to be agreed in excess of 5%. Unable to contact Saudi Arabia from Vienna, Yamani left the meeting and flew to London on his private jet in order to find a secure telephone. This incident was widely publicized.

At an OPEC meeting in May 1976 in Bali, Iran and seven other members advocated a 20% increase in oil prices to match inflation, although Saudi Arabia favoured a six-month price freeze. The Iraqi oil minister fiercely criticised Yamani and Saudi Arabia for pro-Western policy, which led to Yamani leaving the meeting and demanding an apology. This was settled and the six-month price freeze was agreed.

Six months later, OPEC assembled in Doha and Saudi Arabia again faced pressure to raise prices. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the only two member countries not to agree to a 10% increase in January 1977 followed by an additional 5% increase in July. This led to a period of two-tier pricing with Saudi Arabia and the UAE charging $12.09 per barrel and the other OPEC countries $12.70 per barrel. In July 1977, an OPEC meeting in Stockholm ended two-tier pricing, with prices re-unified at $12.70.

In 1979, the Iranian Revolution resulted in the 1979 energy crisis. Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members managed to increase production sufficiently to replace that lost from Iran, but this did not prevent panic buying of oil. OPEC also maintained an official price, although the spot market led to oil prices being negotiated upward. Yamani claimed that Saudi Arabia would not sell over the OPEC price but would remain committed to the reduction of oil prices.

Removal from office

The panic buying during the 1979 energy crisis led to increased oil stocks which began to flood the market and resulted in price wars between oil-producing nations competing for market share. This in turn led to reduced income for Saudi Arabia. On 13 June 1982, in the course of this downturn, King Khalid died of a heart attack and Crown Prince Fahd became King and Prime Minister, resulting in renewed rumours of Yamani's imminent removal from office.

The beginning of Fahd's rule was marred by the reduced oil income caused by the 1980s oil glut, and ambitious development plans had to be rolled back. The restricted national budget also encouraged the use of oil in barter deals. In 1984, Saudi Arabia purchased ten Boeing 747s to join the fleet of Saudia Airlines, paid for using 34.5 million barrels (5,490,000 m3) of oil. Yamani is known to have strongly objected to this subordination of the country's OPEC quota and warned Fahd of the effect on oil prices. He was, however, unsuccessful in stopping the deal.

At an OPEC meeting in October 1986, Fahd sent his oil minister a cable demanding Saudi Arabia's oil quota to be increased and the price of oil set at $18, which Yamani refused to sign. Yamani's biographer suggests that Fahd did not understand basic economic principles, although the relationship between the King and Yamani had already greatly deteriorated by this time; apparently Yamani had begun to remove files from his government office in 1985.

On 29 October 1986, a brief announcement was made on Saudi television that Yamani had been dismissed.[1] He was replaced by Hisham Nazer.[7] Detailed information of events is not known as Yamani refuses to discuss his last years in office or his relationship with King Fahd and the Sudairi Seven. Fahd's jealousy and personal dislike of Yamani, the problems of the oil glut, and Yamani's questioning of barter deals may all have contributed to his dismissal. For some weeks after, Yamani was prevented from leaving Saudi Arabia.

Other activities

In July 1982, Yamani founded Investcorp, private equity firm, with several other oil ministers and well-known financiers. The firm's initial investments included Tiffany & Co., Breguet, a Swiss watch maker, and Chaumet, a French jeweller. Yamani, himself known to be a watch lover, also became majority shareholder of Vacheron Constantin in 1987. In 1996, Yamani's shares were then sold to Vendôme Luxury Group, owned by Richemont. During the eleven years of his ownership, watch production increased from 3,614 to 11,019.

In 1988, Yamani established the Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation under the Yamani Cultural and Charitable Foundation, which endeavours to preserve and publish historically important Islamic works.[8]

In 1990, Yamani founded the Centre for Global Energy Studies, a London-based market analysis group claiming to provide objective information on energy issues. Board members have included Edward Heath, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Denis Healey, all friends of Yamani.[2]

With the death of King Fahd in August 2005, some felt it was still possible that Yamani would return to the Saudi Government under King Abdullah, most likely as an ambassador, but sources close to Yamani indicated that it was highly unlikely.

Personal life

Yamani's first wife was an Iraqi.[9] They had three children.[9] In 1956, Yamani's first daughter, Mai Yamani, was born, followed by second daughter Maha in 1959 and first son Hani in 1961. Mai Yamani later studied anthropology and is now an author and Research Fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs. Maha received a law degree from Cambridge and Hani a degree in business administration. Yamani married his second wife Tamam al Anbar on 23 March 1975, and had five children: Faisal (born 1976), Sharaf (born 1977), Sarah (born 1979), Arwa (born 1981) and Ahmed (born 1983).[1] Yamani is fluent in Arabic, English[9] and French.

His negotiation style, as remarked on by Henry Kissinger, was to wine and dine other dignitaries until the point of fullness and lethargy, before beginning protracted negotiations (Reader's Digest, circa 1970).

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Kechichian, Joseph A. (9 April 2012). "King Faisal's lieutenant on world stage". Gulf News. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "His Excellency Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani". CGES. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  3. Waldman, Peter (12 April 2015). "Saudi Arabia's Plan to Extend the Age of Oil". Bloomberg News.
  4. Frei, Matt (3 July 2008). "Washington diary: Oil addiction". BBC. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  5. 1 2 3 Bellamy, Patrick. "Carlos the Jackal: Trail of Terror". truTV. Archived from the original on 7 January 2012. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  6. Follain, John (1998). Jackal: The Complete Story of the Legendary Terrorist, Carlos the Jackal. Arcade Publishing. p. 102. ISBN 978-1559704663.
  7. "Saudis fire Yamani as oil minister". Spokane Chronicle. 30 October 1986. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  8. "Introduction by Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Chairman and Patron". Al Furqan Foundation. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  9. 1 2 3 "A. Zaki Yamani" (PDF). CIA. 15 May 1974. Retrieved 25 October 2012.

Further reading

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