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Egypt recently carried out its first democratic presidential election in the country’s history. But five days after the vote, the question of who won remains a matter of contention. The contest pitted a former military man who had served in the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak against a leader of the regime’s longtime foes, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Most observers believe the most votes went to Mohamed Morsy, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). The party claims a 1.2 million vote lead over Ahmed Shafik, the former military man and Mubarak prime minister. Shafik, however, says he has 500,000 more votes than Morsy. And with the official results still pending, the tension is rising as Egyptians wait to find out which candidate—if any—is telling the truth.

The presence of Egypt’s decidedly undemocratic military in its fledgling democratic process has only added to the atmosphere of uncertainty. Shortly after the polls closed on Sunday night, the junta, which has ruled Egypt since Mubarak stepped down, issued a decree that served to dramatically limit the powers of the incoming president. Just a few days before, the country’s constitutional court had moved to dissolve Egypt’s first democratically elected parliament—which had been dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. And analysts say this latest decree seems tailor made to limit the impact of a Brotherhood win at the polls.

The Islamists have reacted to the pressure with a show of popular force; taking to Cairo’s Tahrir Square every night since, as the country awaits the electoral outcome. So far, the demonstrations have been largely symbolic. But they could turn violent if Shafik is declared the winner—an outcome that the Islamists have already said would be the product of electoral fraud.

Abigail Hauslohner is TIME’s Cairo correspondent.

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME and was named the 2011 Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International competition.

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The last time TIME contract photographer Yuri Kozyrev and I were in Libya together, we were covering the fall of Tripoli to Libyan rebel forces, near the end of an eight-month civil war. We had covered the revolution since February 2011, moving along desert frontlines, into war-ravaged homes, and finally, up to the gates of Muammar Gaddafi’s abandoned villas in Tripoli. Our coverage last Fall took us from intelligence headquarters to the scenes of massacres and on to new front lines. It was chaos—full of discovery and excitement for the rebels and newly liberated civilians—but chaos, nonetheless. No one knew when Gaddafi would be found, or what the future would bring when they found him.

And it wasn’t until four months after Gaddafi was captured and killed—four months after the official end of the war—that we returned to Libya. This time, we didn’t sneak across any borders, nor did we duck from any bullets. We flew into a calm and functioning Benghazi airport, surrounded by flower bushes.

Libya is not as we left it. Driving across the country, we visited old friends and new acquaintances. We discovered that the Esbaks, a family of revolutionaries who I met last February in the Green Mountains of Libya’s east, had lost their youngest son since I last saw them—killed by a mortar shell on the eastern frontline. We discovered they had a new set of politics as well: after decades of dictatorship, they were already fed up with the transitional government and they wanted to see Libya divided into states.

In every town we stopped in, we met rebels we used to know—men who could now be called militia members. They had retained their weapons and their autonomy. The people who defeated the old system may be the biggest threat to stability in the new one. In Misrata, a militia leader named Mohamed Shami took us to the city’s largest prison. There, the men who used to be winners are now the captives. Their overlords are the rebels they once fought and repressed. One of the prisoners we met is Sayyed Muammar Gaddafi Dam, the late dictator’s cousin. We watched as Shami, the militia commander, posed for a picture with the frightened Gaddafi at his side.

There is no justice in the new Libya—but the former rebels are quick to note: there wasn’t much justice in the old Libya either. The prisoners are awaiting trials. Some have been waiting a year. But in the mean time, the conditions aren’t so bad, the militias say—at least torture isn’t as rampant as it was under Gaddafi.

At times our journey was certainly eerie. We stopped in all the places where we had been shot at covering the war. Human remains are still submerged in the sand at one of the first rebel camps that Gaddafi bombed from the air, outside the oil refinery at Ras Lanuf. We stood in the place where our journalist friends and colleagues had been killed in Misrata; and we interviewed former loyalists on the road in Sirte where a rocket-propelled grenade had missed my car and struck someone else. Our jaws dropped when we walked through Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli. It had been smashed and burned to oblivion, as if the entire country had vented 42 years of rage on a single spot. Perhaps noticing our shock, a 12-year-old boy leaned out of a car window and asked me: “Did you ever expect to see this?” His introduction led us to a conversation with his family, and Yuri photographed the boy and his brother, as they explored what was once the dictator’s, now theirs.

We got the feeling, as we moved from town to town, that the country was in the midst of a great, collective exhale: that Libyan journalists and politicians were just starting to find their footing on new and unfamiliar turf; that families were lifting their heads from beneath the rubble to take a look around; that, despite all the guns in the hands of lawless militias, people were at least shooting at each other less often.

We drove across the country humming along to Libyan revolutionary hip-hop, and stopping to talk with picnicking families, religious leaders, refugees, village sheikhs, and oil workers. Some people wanted revenge; others had already taken it. A lot of people were angry that the money wasn’t flowing fast enough and that they were compelled to rebuild their war-ravaged homes and businesses with money from their own pockets.

But we didn’t find the same despair that had filled the eyes of the young men we encountered in blood-spattered field hospitals just months before. Museums have been erected to commemorate the battles fought and the martyrs lost. Schools are back in session—even the shell-shocked ones. Hundreds of former rebels are training to join the new national army. Old friends are now talking about tourism and business. We heard women discussing women’s rights and lecturing men on politics—a newfound agency that they’ve capitalized on since the revolution. Where the weak transitional government is failing, ordinary citizens are helping one another rebuild. Young people are getting creative. And the most marvelous thing we found as we traveled was optimism; optimism of the wild, determined sort. Libya is set to hold its first democratic election in June. No one knows how many bumps lie in the road up ahead. But despite all those challenges, and the years of heartbreak behind them, the Libyans we met on our road trip seemed hopeful.

Read more in this week’s issue of TIME: Hope Among the Ruins

Abigail Hauslohner is TIME’s Cairo correspondent.

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME and was named the 2011 Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International competition.

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The grim factory towns of the Ural Mountains, such as the outpost of Kurgan along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, are among the only places left in Russia where Prime Minister Vladimir Putin could still count on the people’s firm support. The air tastes metallic here from the belching smokestacks, and most of the workers are massed in crumbling apartment blocks left over from the Soviet Union. But life is predictable, the average wage is enough to get by and the locals are grateful to Putin for that.

So his bid to win a third term as president—which he won on March 4—focused on places like Kurgan, which he visited on Feb. 13 to tour a provincial school. It was a safe place for a campaign stop, far away from Russia’s biggest cities, where the vibrant middle class has begun to protest by the tens of thousands to call for an end to Putin’s 12-year rule. Outside of School No. 7 in Kurgan, he was greeted by a crowd of supporters who waited for four hours in the freezing cold to have a glimpse of the man they call “our leader,” or sometimes even, “the czar.” Such towns are still home to the vast majority of the Russian population, and they were likely the ones who handed Putin a mandate to rule for six more years. The middle class will then need to wait to see much political change.

Simon Shuster is TIME’s Moscow reporter. Follow him on Twitter @shustry

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME and was just named the 2011 Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International competition.

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In 2011, Yuri Kozyrev traveled to seven countries covering protests and uprisings for TIME, including Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Russia, Greece and Tunisia. Here, he writes about the remarkable experience and what all the revolutions had in common.

It’s unique that I’ve been able to cover all these uprisings and revolutions during the year. I’m lucky—it’s incredibly complicated to understand where you need to go when you’re on the ground, and I was lucky to have a lot of help. The protests were well under way when I got to Tahrir Square in late January, and their size and scope took my breath away: in two decades of covering the Middle East, I had never encountered anything like this. There was huge fighting between the pro-government supports and revolutionaries. Some of the journalists were beaten. Some of them lost their cameras. They kicked me out, but I managed to get back in the next morning. I saw a lot of families—not just young men or revolutionaries—and everyone was helping each other, praying together. It was a great time. Everybody was waiting for Mubarak to make the right decision, and suddenly it happened. And it was so emotional: people crying, shouting, screaming…it was incredible. The next morning, it was over. The army was kicking everyone out. They weren’t friendly—there was a feeling of ‘You got what you wanted. Now, get out.’ Of all the revolutions I covered, Egypt was the most special.

The mood at the Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain was very different from Tahrir Square. In the first days, I saw men in white robes approach police with flowers, offerings of peace: the response was tear-gas and live rounds. There was a huge difference between this army and the Egyptian army. People from Bahrain—there was no way they could even talk to the army who had arrived from Saudi Arabia. There was no way for me to get to Pearl Square, so a few journalists and I watched what was happening from the hotel. There was one hospital where all the protesters were gathered together. And then the doctors did something incredible. Not all of them supported the protesters, but they gave them shelter at the hospital and saved a lot of lives. I had a chance to go back to Bahrain after they demolished Pearl Square, and again a few weeks ago, and I saw young people who’d lost one eye to rubber bullets. It was just so sad, and I just saw some of them. I know there were many more.

In Yemen, it was very different. There was no Facebook. Change Square was still packed, but the feeling of revolution was more religious, more conservative. There was an invisible border for protesters to stay behind, and the army would shoot anyone who tried to cross this line. I saw so many young people were ready to cross the line, marching to die. And around Change Square, there were hundreds of pictures of people who’d died. In Egypt, I saw protest signs and other things, but in Yemen, it was just pictures of young faces. Whether or not President Saleh will relinquish power, the political crisis in Yemen will likely remain acute, not only because of its tribal culture and topography, but also because of its deep poverty, high illiteracy and birth rates, and deeply entrenched government corruption.

Libya was different because it was more of a civil war than a revolution. It was here that I took one of my favorite pictures of the year. It was taken on the front lines near Ras Lanuf, Libya. It was near an oil refinery factory that was important for both sides—both the rebels and government. I took this picture on March 11, when Gaddafi’s military could still fly, and they were flying around, dropping bombs on the rebels. It was really scary for everybody on the front lines—suddenly, you could hear the plane coming and the bombs hitting their targets. These men were the shabab, young people who weren’t professional fighters and didn’t have weapons or training. They’re not rebels, but eager to be on the front lines. They’re jumping because they heard the planes coming, so they’re running around trying to find any place to hide, which is hard because everything is flat and exposed. You can see from the picture that none of them have any weapons—they were scared—and it was just an incredible experience to be there.

Beyond these main four revolutions, I also traveled to cover the protests in Moscow, Greece and Tunis. I came to the conclusion that each revolution must be assessed in its own context, because each had a distinctive impact. The drama of each revolution unfolded separately. Each had its own heroes, its own crises. Each, therefore, demands its own narrative. In the end, the differences between them may turn out to be more important than their similarities, however. And the common thing about all these protests is the number of young people who really want to bring changes to their country. That’s what’s most incredible. We have a new generation of people who are sick and tired of what’s going on. Call it the Jasmine Revolution, the Arab Spring or the Facebook Revolution, there’s a powerful Sirocco blowing across the world, and young people realize there’s another life and they want to live differently.

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME who has covered the Arab Spring since January. 

MORE: See the entire 2011 Person of the Year package here

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On November 19, thousands of Egyptians took to Tahrir Square once
again in what many called a “second” revolution—or even the “real”
revolution. Within a week, the protest had spread to cities across
Egypt, and the iconic square in downtown Cairo had again become a
space of war and protest, as protesters this time called for the end
of military rule, and a final toppling of the junta that ousted
President Hosni Mubarak left behind. Days of clashes between
protesters and Egyptian central security forces left more than 40
people dead and nearly 2,000 wounded, and let activists and analysts
to draw comparisons to Tahrir’s earlier days of fame, when thousands
of Egyptians occupied the square last winter to demand the end of
Mubarak’s rule.

This latest unraveling came as authorities tried to clear the square
in downtown Cairo following a mass protest on Friday. Islamists and
young liberals had gathered to protest a proposed set of
“supraconstitutional” principles that would place the military largely
outside the realm of judicial and parliamentary supervision, as well
as giving the institution wide veto power over the development of the
next government and constitution. But the ensuing clashes only drove
more protesters into the square.

Just days ahead of parliamentary elections on Nov. 28, the occupation of the
square became a lynchpin of debate between Egyptian politicians,
generals, activists and regular citizens on the best way forward for
a nation in turmoil. Ultimately, the junta succeeded in holding the
election—a boost to their credibility as interim rulers—even as some
continued to protest.

Voter turnout far surpassed that of previous sham elections, held
under Mubarak, and lines at polling stations snaked around city blocks
as men and women from across the political and economic spectrum
waited to cast their votes.

Monday’s parliamentary election — the first relatively free,
democratic race in Egypt’s history, and perhaps the biggest bellwether
of a long and turbulent Arab Spring — rang in harsh truths for some, a
tide of satisfaction and new hopes for others. For the majority of
Egyptians, eager to elect a new government that they hope will lift
the country out of post-revolution turmoil, the vote was a tremendous
success. For the liberals, youth, and others who had hoped to usher in
bigger changes through Tahrir Square, the vote signaled that a second
revolution is yet to come.

Abigail Hauslohner is TIME’s Cairo correspondent. Find her on Twitter @ahauslohner.

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME who has covered the Arab Spring since January.

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Change Square, the locus of anti-government protests in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, has become a veritable tent city, home, for more than eight months, to several thousand protestors. And like any city, it caters to the needs of its citizen population: Doctors tend to the wounded at a makeshift hospital, volunteers prepare food, imams call the faithful to prayer, and a few entrepreneurs provide entertainment in the form of pellet-gun rifle ranges for revolutionaries frustrated with the peaceful part of their protest.

But unlike other cities, where the dead are forgotten in far away cemeteries, the martyrs of Change Square are at the center of attention. Photographs of those killed in the clashes flutter from the tent ropes that crisscross the city’s walkways. Portraits are plastered on the walls of the mosque.  Some protesters even wear bandanas printed with pictures of the dead wrapped around their forehead. And in the center of the square is a vast billboard where the protest’s grim toll is laid out in a mosaic of death intermingled with pride.  “We all want to be martyrs,” one young protestor told me. “To have change, we need to sacrifice, and sometimes that means our lives.” His friend agreed. “The only way we will get international attention for our cause is if there is blood on the streets.”

It’s a subtle condemnation of waning interest from the West as the Arab Spring moves into its ninth month. Thousands waving placards demanding the fall of the regime no longer garner the fevered media attention of Tunisia and Egypt. But death does. So in service to their dreams of liberation, some Yemeni revolutionaries aspire to the snipers bullet, or the machine gun spray. Not all of course. “I don’t want to be a martyr,” another protestor told me. “I want to see our dreams of a new Yemen come true.”

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME who has covered the Arab Spring since January. To see his previous work from Libya, click here.

Aryn Baker,
TIME‘s Middle East Bureau Chief, is based in Beirut. Find her on Twitter at @arynebaker. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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