People Staff
December 24, 1979 12:00 PM

Prancing with a tommy gun (right) is not Mani Said al-Otaiba’s style. He was simply having fun with some folk dancers in Abu Dhabi.

June 25 was more typical of Otaiba, who has been president of OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) during this, perhaps its most turbulent, year. Saudi Arabia was about to walk out of an OPEC meeting in Geneva because Iran, Libya and Algeria insisted on raising the price of crude oil 50 percent. Otaiba stepped in. (“He always intervenes at the right time with the right word,” praises an Egyptian diplomat.)

First Otaiba announced, “I don’t want to threaten any of my colleagues.” Then he threatened them—with the prospect of an independent pricing policy by the United Arab Emirates, of which he is oil minister. Then he invited everybody into his suite for homegrown dates and spiced Arabian tea. OPEC settled on a 15 percent boost.

If he is “not at all unfriendly to the U.S.,” as one American official says, Otaiba is no soft touch either. “Countries that expect us to maintain our supplies of petroleum should help us arrive at a rightful solution to the Palestine situation,” he insists. Moreover, Otaiba has harsh words for foreign (including American) oil companies in the Middle East. “They are making excessive profits,” he says.

Otaiba, 33, is an economist with a British secondary school background and a Ph.D. from Cairo University. He lives in the city of Abu Dhabi (population 210,000), the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which is across the Persian Gulf from Iran. His home is a rambling compound with 16-foot ceilings, chandeliers, lavender carpets, pink wallpaper and, sneers one Westerner, “kitschy Louis XIV” side chairs.

For state visitors like Treasury Secretary G. William Miller, Otaiba breaks out the gold tea service. When he gave Miller an Arab headdress this fall, the American cracked, “Now all I need is some oil.” Around the house Otaiba wears his native robe, the dishclasha, and headpiece, the kaffiyeh.

The first citizen of the Abu Dhabi emirate to earn a college degree (in Iraq in 1969), he plans another Ph.D.—in Arab folklore. To relax, he rides, fishes, trains hunting falcons and writes poetry. His literary talents—he has been published in English—are useful when he is pursuing another major interest: women. Explains a friend, “One reason Otaiba has had several wives is that he easily becomes involved with beautiful Bedouin women with dark, flashing eyes.” (He is said to have “several children,” whom he likes to take on his OPEC trips.)

Although he will cede the 1980 OPEC presidency to a Venezuelan by rotation, nobody expects Otaiba to fade from the international oil scene. He is, says an official in Cairo, “an ambitious young man.”

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