Turbulence and change in the Middle East represent the most significant events of the 21st century so far, William Hague has said, against a backdrop of continued violence in Egypt.
The Foreign Secretary said the events in Egypt - as well as other countries across the region - would echo for decades and, while there would be "setbacks", it was important to be optimistic about the desires of the majority of people for peaceful democracy.
Mr Hague said Britain and international partners could influence events in Egypt, highlighting discussions over aid and revocation of some export licences to the country.
But the senior Tory minister said it was vital for him to deal with the government in Egypt as it was today, even though it came to power earlier in the summer as a result of military intervention.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Hague said: "It is a very bleak situation (in Egypt), it is hard to under-estimate the hate and distrust on both sides of the politics in Egypt.
"But I would not accept... there is nothing at all we can do about it. Our influence may be limited - it is a proudly independent country - and there may be years of turbulence in Egypt and other countries going through this profound debate about the nature of democracy and the role of religion in their society. 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."
And the Foreign Secretary added: "What is happening now in the Middle East is the most important event so far of the 21st century, even compared to the financial crisis we have been through and its impact on world affairs. 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 and we should be surprised when they take place."
Mr Hague spoke out as European Union ambassadors prepared for a meeting to discuss the crisis in Egypt amid international alarm at the growing death toll as the interim military government cracks down on the supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council president Herman Van Rompuy on Sunday issued a rare joint statement warning that the EU would "urgently" review its relations with Egypt in the coming days.
Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande have called for the meeting of ambassadors in Brussels to be followed by an emergency session of EU foreign ministers.