He transformed Saudi Arabia into an oil state and rocked the world economy by causing the first oil shock in 1973. Ahmed Zaki Yamani, former Saudi oil minister, died Monday February 22 in London at the age of 90 years. For twenty-four years, from 1962 to 1986, he reigned supreme over Saudi black gold and its economic diplomacy, as irremovable minister of petroleum. “Yamani has become the representative, and the symbol, of the new oil age”, writes Daniel Yergin in Oil Men (Stock, 1991), which recalls that his face had become familiar to the whole world at the time of the first oil shock in 1973.
A graduate of Cairo University, New York University and Harvard in the United States, he was the first Saudi representative to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). After the Egyptian and Syrian defeat in the Yom Kippur War against Israel, the Arab countries decide to use the oil weapon to push the West to end their support for the Jewish state and force Tel Aviv to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
OPEC countries hoped sharp price hike would bend Americans, decisive in Israeli victory
Known for his moderate positions and his good relations with the United States, Ahmed Zaki Yamani will be the architect of this strategy which will structurally change the oil markets, causing a major crisis. The OPEC countries hoped that a sharp rise in prices would bend the Americans, who were decisive in the Israeli victory. In fact, the impact is major on the European, Japanese and American economies. The barrel goes from 3 dollars to more than 5, Washington is deprived of Saudi oil and exports are limited. The United States must impose rationing at the pump, energy savings and price controls on gasoline. Sheikh Yamani then becomes the face of intransigence for the Western media.
Advocate for price stability
History often holds that this OPEC decision marks the brutal end of the “glorious thirties”. A version now qualified by economists and observers of the oil sector, as the journalist Matthieu Auzanneau notes in his reference book Black gold, the great history of oil (The Discovery, 2015): “This very widespread conception of the Arab OPEC countries, the sole accountants and beneficiaries of the oil shock of 1973 (…) appears unfair to say the least. “ At the time, American oil production was already declining and, above all, the price at which Saudi oil was sold to Westerners and Japanese was derisory. The embargo, far from being primarily a political gesture of solidarity with the Palestinians, is an economic and diplomatic calculation on the part of Saudi Arabia, but also of Iran, then an ally of the Americans, in a complex geopolitical game.
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