A recent piece by Jillian Schwedler for the Atlantic Council explains the basis for the Houthi-Saleh alliance and its impending collapse. This marriage of convenience between historically opposed parties is not likely to outlast the ongoing war, and will possibly fall apart even earlier. A Houthi-led march in Sanʻa, which commemorated the five-year anniversary of the revolution that ended in Saleh’s forced resignation, may be the most recent indication of the alliance’s disintegration. For over a decade, and up until the 2012-14 transition period, Saleh and the Houthis butted heads. Though at first Saleh supported the Zaydi revivalist movement--seeing it as a useful counterbalance to Saudi influence in the far north, he turned on the Houthis in the early 2000s, wary of Husayn al-Houthi’s rapidly-growing power. Husayn, who was succeeded by his younger brother Abd al-Malik after his death, assembled militias in 2004 to defend the movement against the regime’s crackdown. The conflict between the Houthis and Saleh continued for years; their eventual alliance was rooted not in mutual interests but in mutual opposition to Hadi’s monopolization of the transition process.
“Between the Houthis and Saleh, there is more than enough hubris to go around. Each seems convinced it can dispense the other with ease once the Saudi-led campaign ends. But with no signs of that happening soon, will the coalition endure?”
Saleh benefits from the Houthis’ experienced militias, strong alliances with northern tribes, and their followers, who rally to their message of Zaydi (and, more generally, Yemeni) empowerment. The Houthis, meanwhile, face strong opposition and cannot survive without Saleh’s formally-trained national army and support from his patronage networks.
There is no end in sight for the ongoing conflict in Yemen, and this is putting a strain on the already uncomfortable alliance. Both parties are likely looking for ways to split from each other as soon as the dust settles. This may be more easily achieved by the Houthis. They are currently in mid-level negotiations with the Saudis, who are reportedly insistent that Saleh not be a part of Yemen’s future.