On Monday Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was killed by rebel Houthi fighters near the capital, Sana’a. His death came after a fragile alliance with the Houthis finally collapsed and signals a new period of conflict in the war-torn country. It was inevitable that the two sides would turn on each other; theirs was a marriage of convenience based on a joint enmity to Saleh’s successor and former deputy, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Before Saleh was ousted in the aftermath of the Arab Spring in 2012, he had led multiple wars against his fellow northerners and his troops killed the group’s founder, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, back in 2004. The fact that the two sides joined forces a decade later may have been a surprise to many, but it was also evidence of Saleh’s cynical policy of divide and conquer; his 33-year-rule was defined by opportunism and duplicity. He compared ruling Yemen to “dancing on the heads of snakes” and used an informal tribal power base (and money) to placate opposition and retain power. He paid government salaries to former jihadists while at the same time publicly supporting George W Bush’s ‘War on Terror’. What he lacked in principles, he made up for in political nous.