William Hague says turmoil in the Middle East could ‘last decades’

The Foreign Secretary also calls the situation in Egypt “very bleak”, but says Britain will support democracy in the country

The turmoil in the Middle East could take “years, or maybe decades” to “play out”, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary has said.

Claiming that what is happening in the region is the “most important event so far of the 21st century” he said that Britain needed to “keep our nerve” in supporting democratic practices and institutions.

“I think it will take years, maybe decades, to play out, and through that we have to keep our nerve in clearly supporting democracy, democratic institutions, promoting dialogue and there will be many setbacks in doing that,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Speaking specifically about Egypt, he said that the situation in the country was “very bleak” and while issues in the country, and others, would echo through the decades it was important to remain upbeat about the desire from the majority of Egyptians for democracy, and the role that Britain could play despite having “limited” influence.

“I would not accept. . . there is nothing at all we can do about it . . . We have to do our best to promote democratic institutions and political dialogue and to keep faith with the majority of Egyptians who just want a peaceful and stable country,” he said.

Mr Hague added that the UK government had reacted effectively to the situation in Egypt over the last few days by suspending projects with security forces and revoking a number of export licences.

The government has also condemned the “disproportionate use of force” by the Egyptian authorities and called on all sides to enter dialogue.

Mr Hague said the loss of Mohamed ElBaradei from the interim government was a blow and a “bad sign” and reflected Britain's own concerns over the violence.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of EU ambassadors today to discuss the crisis, as international alarm continues to grow at the death toll in the country, Mr Hague said that European countries should “review together” how to try and aid Egypt.

On Sunday, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council president Herman Van Rompuy issued a rare joint statement warning that the EU would “urgently” review its relations with Egypt in the coming days.