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In Cairo, cheers and fears over Mubarak sentencing

Yasmina Muslemany / NBC News

Aly Mahmoud Abdel Hakim, a carpenter from Faymoum, clasps his hands anxiously as he joins others at the Wadi al Nil cafe in Tahrir Square to watch Hosni Mubarak's sentencing.

CAIRO, Egypt -- The waiters at Wadi al Nil café, overlooking Tahrir Square, carefully skirted around cameramen jostling for position and patrons who filled the cramped coffee shop to capacity. All eyes were on the TV waiting for the judge to read out the sentence on the man who had ruled as president for 31 years, Mohamed Hosni Mubarak.

For many, he was the only president they had ever known, and they waited with hands clasped as if in prayer, biting their lips and with eyes upturned to the TV screen as the judge read the verdict for failing to stop the killing of Egyptian protesters.

And it came: Twenty five years, which qualifies as a life sentence in Egypt, and a term that would mean that Mubarak, 84, would almost certainly die in prison.

A cheer rose up, people pumped their fists in the air and jumped up and down and clapped. Drivers careening around Tahrir Square honked their horns in joy.

For educator Ezzat Said, the trial sent a clear-cut message to future Egyptian leaders, especially at a time when presidential elections are imminent. "The verdict today calmed the hearts of all Egyptians. It gave the impression the Egyptian judiciary system is fair and just. ... No matter how powerful and oppressive the pharaoh is, there is a moment where he will be brought down by the will of the people.

"This verdict delivers a message for the upcoming candidates that any president who oppresses or disdains his people, the people will bring him down," he continued. "The era of oppression and fear has ended in Egypt."

Hisham Sohour, a retired army officer, said he believed the verdict will help bring stability at a time of uncertainty and discontent.

"In my personal opinion, the sentence is a just one," he said. "It brings justice to the dead protesters. It appeases the Egyptian people, and it fits with the level of crime that was committed in Egypt's name. ... This makes our country stable and we want a new president and strong president."

Aly Mahmoud Abdel Hakim, a 20-year-old carpenter from Faymoum, was angered by the acquittal of six Ministry of Interior officials and Mubarak's sons Gamal and Alaa. "They shouldn't have given … those people an innocent sentence because those people were with him and committed all the crimes that happened. And every one of them was behind the corruption in the country. Why did he say they were innocent?"

Abdel Hakim was among demonstrators chanting against the sentence in Tahrir Square, among them Sabri Selim.

"We had a revolution in 18 days. Eighteen days will not remove the regime. The regime has been corrupt for 30 years, how can the court rule when they are part of the corrupt system?" Selim asked.

Another in Tahrir Square, Ahmed Mohamed, hoped the sentence would restore calm, not provoke more demonstrations. "The people should not question the transparency of the court and should have confidence in the courts so the country moves on," he said. "We have to be careful about these things, so that we progress forward. … We won't know better than the judges. They're the ones who saw the evidence."

Despite Mohamed’s desire, and that of many others to move on, chanting crowds began building in Tahrir as the powerful Muslim Brotherhood asked their members to fill squares across the country in protest. Chants were clearly audible as protesters marched past the NBC bureau on their way to Egypt TV, a symbol of the old regime.

Msnbc.com's news report on the verdict

Another Tahrir Square marcher, Ahmed Mohamadain, felt that Mubarak's jail term was more punitive than the death sentence many had hoped for. "I am happy about the president's verdict because the time he will serve in prison is going to be a punishment for him. If they hang him or shoot him they are showing him mercy."

Mohamadain may be right. Press reports quoted security who said Mubarak cried when he arrived at the court and begged to be returned to the military hospital where he had been awaiting trial. Egyptian TV simply said that medical sources say the former president was being treated for a health crisis in the helicopter. He reportedly entered the prison after two hours of negotiations.

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