|German chancellor Angela Merkel (left) warned that rapid action in Egypt could prove counterproductive [EPA]
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has warned of a "perfect storm" enveloping the Middle East if leaders do not implement political and social reforms to meet the demands of their people.
Clinton was speaking on Saturday at a high-level security conference in Munich, where EU leaders have appeared divided in their response to events in Egypt.
The secretary of state urged European nations to join the US in pressing for broad political and economic reform in the Middle East.
She said half measures were "untenable" as they would only breed further discontent.
Some European leaders such as David Cameron, the British prime minister, have also called for a rapid transition in Egypt.
However, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, fear early elections in Egypt would not be helpful and say the immediate ousting of Hosni Mubarak, the president, could lead to a power vacuum.
"The region is being battered by a perfect storm of powerful trends," Clinton said.
"This is what has driven demonstrators into the streets of Tunis, Cairo, and cities throughout the region."
Clinton said that Washington was backing Egypt's drive to craft orderly reforms to allow democratic elections.
"It is important to support the transition process announced by the Egyptian government actually headed by now-vice president Omar Suleiman," she said.
"The principles are very clear, the operational details are very challenging."
The secretary of state urged leaders across the Middle East to embrace democratic reforms in response to the growing unrest in the region, despite the risk of short-term instability in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.
She said change is a "strategic necessity" that will make Arab nations stronger and their people more prosperous and less susceptible to extremist ideologies.
Addressing events in Egypt, Merkel said: "Early elections at the beginning of the democratisation process is probably the wrong approach."
However, Cameron said a delay would produce an unstable country that the West would not welcome.
"There is no stability in Egypt. We need change, reform and transition to get stability," he said at the conference.
Obama: Mubarak must listen
On Friday, Barack Obama, the US president, said Mubarak should "listen" to protesters calling for him to resign, but he stopped short of explicitly urging the Egyptian president to leave office immediately.
"He needs to listen to what is voiced by the people and make a judgement about a pathway forward that is orderly, that is meaningful and serious," Obama said in carefully worded comments on Egypt's political future.
Obama told reporters that in two conversations with Mubarak since mass protests against the Egyptian leader's 30-year rule began 11 days ago he stressed the need for an orderly transition to democracy in the country, long a cornerstone of US Middle East strategy.
"Having made that psychological break, that decision that he will not be running again, I think the most important thing for him to ask himself ... is how do we make that transition effective and lasting and legitimate,'' Obama said.
"The key question he should be asking himself is: 'how do I leave a legacy behind in which Egypt is able to get through this transformative period?' And my hope is ... that he will end up making the right decision."