It is almost certain that very few Yeminis will be able to forget the date of 4 December, 2017 for many years to come. This was the day when Ali Abdullah Saleh — the man who had ruled over them for 33 years — was taken out by a Houthi sniper during a firefight in Sanaa. Saleh had conceived and consummated a marriage of convenience with the Houthis in 2014. This union between Saleh and his former foes was doomed to fail since its inception yet no one could have imagined that the end for a man who had mastered the art of dancing over heads of snakes, will be so swift. Ali Abdullah Saleh did not get the chance to take his final U-turn as he planned to switch sides once again. Now that the master spinner is gone, it is very difficult to predict the future course of the conflict. Saleh’s assassination has shook the very framework through which Yemini politics was seen and understood. Despite the sectarian rhetoric which is generally being used to define the current conflict in Yemen, a closer look will reveal that sectarianism and geo-politics are only one of the few factors at play. In reality the war in Yemen is a struggle between the old order and an emerging one. At the heart of the conflict are the Houthis firmly anchored in the upper north of the country, and the Southern Movement rooted in southern Yemen. The Houthi movement was founded by Hussein al-Houthi in 2001 in the aftermath of US invasion of Afghanistan. In 2004, a conflict started between the then President Saleh’s government and the Houthis culminating in the arrest and execution of their leader. Hussein al-Houthi’s younger brother took the reins of the movement. The war raged on till 2010 destroying Northern Yemen and devastating the rest of the country. Thousands of lives were lost and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Before the Arab Spring hit Yemen in 2011, the prevailing political order in the country consisted of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Brig. General Ali Muhsin Al-Ahmar, Al-Ahmar tribal sheikhs, and the Islah Party. A notable thing here is that the Hashemite and Zaidi clans — despite numbering in hundreds of thousands — were not part of this political configuration. As the Arab spring swept Yemen in 2011, the prevailing political order of the country collapsed. Ali Abdullah Saleh was deposed and his allies were severely marginalised. Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi became the president of Yemen. However, fighting still ravaged the country where different factions struggled for power. Ali Abdullah Saleh again entered the fray, this time on the side of the Houthis. Saleh’s main objective was to prepare grounds for his son Ahmed, former leader of the Republican Guard. In 2014, the Houthis succeeded in capturing the capital Sanaa. Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi fled to neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Despite the sectarian rhetoric which is generally being used to define the current conflict in Yemen, a closer look will reveal that sectarianism and geo-politics are only one of the few factors at play. In reality the war in Yemen is a struggle between the old order and an emerging one On 26 March, 2015, a coalition of nine countries spearheaded by Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign against the Houthis in support of Hadi’s internationally recognised government. The main objective of the campaign was to allow President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to return and govern the country, and to bring the Houthis to the negotiating table. The coalition failed to dislodge the Houthis from Sanaa. This is because the Houthi movement’s ideological core is still intact. Moreover, the allies had anticipated that as soon as the military operation began, local actors opposed to the Houthis will rise up against them. This did not happen either. The occurrences can be attributed to two misleading assumptions that were made earlier during the Yemen conflict; that the Houthis are acting as mere tools of Ali Abdullah Saleh who is using them to return to power, and that the Houthi movement will be instantly defeated once it lost Saleh’s backing. On the contrary, the Houthis have successfully not only consolidated their power and influence, they are also able to carry on the fight without Saleh. It is evident now that Ali Abdullah Saleh’s assassination will have no impact on the current military situation in Yemen. However, his departure from the scene may have provided an opportunity to the peacemakers. Until a few days ago, everyone thought that Saleh was the man in charge. This perception has changed forever. Now, it is obvious that anyone seeking to bring peace to Yemen will need to negotiate with the Houthis directly. The Houthis, on the other hand, must be aware of the fact that by killing Ali Abdullah Saleh, they have marked themselves for revenge from his supporter both foreign and domestic. They must also be aware that the allied campaign and blockade against them cannot continue indefinitely. If they could wait it out, they will be the sole remaining power in Yemen. It is now up to the peacemakers to seize this opportunity, reconfigure their assumptions, and make serious efforts for bringing peace to this devastated country. The writer is an investment banker and has been writing articles for several newspapers and magazines Published in Daily Times, December 21st 2017.