The story of Egypt is the story of crowds. Until January 2011, its politics were the sterile, servile sort enforced by one-party states. But Tahrir Square changed that, and public affairs have refused to move indoors since.
What Yuri Kozyrev has captured in these photos is the abrupt, almost neck-snapping changes that exploded in Cairo’s public spaces in the first days of July. First the city erupted in rejoicing in the hours after the Egyptian military removed President Mohamed Morsi from office July 3, his one-year tenure eclipsed by the most massive public demonstrations in the nation’s history three days earlier. Now tens of thousands surged into Tahrir to cheer, bathed in the glow of fireworks and the green laser pointers sold in the square like corn on the cob. Thousands more piled into cars and honked their way through the streets of the capital in the kind of celebration normally seen after a World Cup final.
Flags were everywhere – including, the next morning, across the pale blue dome of the Cairo sky. Military fighter jets put on an air show over downtown, trailing streams of the national colors and drawing a valentine over Tahrir. Egyptians insisted the president’s removal was not a coup but a national liberation.
Meanwhile, Morsi loyalists built what they called their own Tahir, in the street opposite a mosque in the southeast Cairo neighborhood of Nasr City. In the space of hours, the world of the Muslim Brotherhood had been turned upside, but the organization soon found its feet, and set to marching.
The coup happened on a Wednesday. By Friday, the Brothers were confronting the military at a Republican Guard compound, where sentries opened fire. A few hours later a column of Morsi loyalists marched across Nile toward Tahrir. Most pivoted away to assemble outside the headquarters of state television, which was pointedly ignoring their protests. But enough confronted the anti-Morsi crowd to ignite a rock-throwing melee atop the 6 October Bridge.
The confrontation announced a wrenching new phase in Egypt’s odyssey. The nation that Morsi was accused of polarizing politically by majoritarian behavior was now choosing sides in the literal sense. Demonstrations threatened to become street battles. In the early hours of Monday, July 8, gunfire sounded outside the Republican Guard compound, and 51 members of the Brotherhood lay dead. A country that five days earlier appeared rapturous was, just like that, teetering on a precipice.
Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME who has covered the Arab Spring since January 2011. See more of his photos from Egypt here on LightBox.
Karl Vick is TIME’s Jerusalem bureau chief.