Egypt risks falling into the hands of extremists if President Hosni Mubarak does not push ahead with a democratic “transformation”, Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned.
Mr Hague highlighted the danger as mass protests against the leader’s three-decade rule continued across the country.
More than 100 people are reported to have died in six days of violence, and looters and criminals have been taking advantage of the chaos.
Britain, the US, France and Germany have urged Mr Mubarak to recognise the grievances of the demonstrators and introduce reforms to boost legitimacy, but so far his concessions of sacking his Cabinet and appointing a new deputy have not eased the dissent.
Interviewed on Sky News’ Murnaghan programme, Mr Hague said: “It is not for us to try to pick who should be the president of Egypt. It is a sovereign nation.
“What matters is that the process takes place, whatever that means for President Mubarak personally, whatever he judges that means for him personally.
“It is important for him to initiate that transformation and that broadly based government, and that is what we would like to see.
“That is far preferable of course to Egypt falling into the hands of extremism or a more authoritarian system of government.
“It is peaceful reform to a more open and democratic society that is in the interests of Egyptians and in the interests of the wider world.”
Mr Hague has indicated that the UK would be concerned if Mr Mubarak was replaced by a conservative religious group.