SANAA, Yemen – In a symbolic move, Yemenis on Thursday began to dismantle protest tent camp in the capital, Sanaa, and other cities across the country, declaring the end of their revolution.
Yemenis, long dissatisfied with their ruler, President Ali Abdullah Salah, watched with the rest of the Middle East as Egyptians rose up against their president, Hosni Mubarak. On the day he resigned, Feb. 11, 2001, Yemen erupted into its own popular revolution.
Unlike Egypt's 18-day uprising, Yemen's dragged on. And unlike Libya, opponents of the regime did not take up arms from the beginning to the end.
They stood their ground in the streets in the face of a harsh crackdown by Saleh's security forces and later by armed men in civilian clothes. They won protection from a defected army unit that guarded the tent camp day and night, putting an end to regime violence against them.
Starting on Feb, 11, 2011, tens of thousands of Yemenis left their homes and slept in tent camps set up in city squares. Every morning, they would march out of the camps, holding hands and dancing to patriotic songs blaring from loudspeakers.
Hundreds of thousands marched in daily demonstrations that transformed to weekly marches and demonstrations after Saleh agreed to sign a power transfer plan in November 2011. The deal, brokered by neighboring Arab Gulf countries and backed by the United States and the West, gave him immunity from prosecution in return for ending his 33-year reign.
Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was rubber-stamped as the country's new leader in one-candidate presidential elections. In February last year, the official transfer of power to Hadi marked a new beginning for Yemen and a partial victory for the revolution.
Protesters did not leave the streets after Hadi's assumption of power, signaling a second chapter of the power struggle between the new leaders and Saleh's relatives and loyalists holding key and crucial positions in government and military. Protesters staged demonstrations demanding that Hadi push for full-scale reforms and purge Saleh's men from state institutions.
On Thursday, The Organizational Committee of the Popular Youth Revolution and Youth Groups, which organized the protests, said in a statement that it decided to suspend its sit-ins in all Freedom and Change Squares, the name given to city centers where tent camps were set up, decreeing that all the tents would be removed.
By nightfall, traffic flowed for the first time in main and side streets that for two years were sealed off by tents. Shops, forced to close, were reopening.
Habib al-Ariqi, a member of the committee, said the group decided to suspend Friday Muslim prayers in city squares, but he warned that "option to return to the squares ... is open."
"Our choice now is revolutionary oversight on the works of the National Dialogue," in reference to six-month marathon sessions of meetings and talks among all political, social and religious sectors of Yemeni society, aimed at drawing a new political map and governing system for Yemen. The process is part of the power transfer deal.
The decision came after protesters held their final demonstration last Friday, calling it "the Friday of Victory." Protesters voiced support for Hadi and his latest decisions to shake up to the military, removing Saleh's men from key positions. Among the moves, Hadi ordered removal of Saleh's son Ahmed, who led the country's powerful Republican Guard forces, appointing him ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.
The female icon of the protest movement, Tawakol Karman, thanked residents of the neighborhood where the tent camp was built. "You were the first to get down to topple the regime," she said.
"We are starting a new phase ... We declare that we toppled the rule of the family forever, and we have a new revolution to cleanse the state from corruption," she said.
Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation, is facing multiple challenges. Among them is the fight against al-Qaida.