* Can’t solve Egypt crisis “by flicking switch”—Cameron
* West may fear hasty election could empower Islamists
* Culture of democratic tolerance must take shape first
By Stephen Brown and William MacLean
MUNICH, Feb 5 (Reuters) - European powers Germany and Britain urged Egypt on Saturday to change leaders rapidly but take its time holding elections, saying traditions of tolerance and fairness had to be built to make democracy work.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and European Council President Herman van Rompuy reiterated demands for a rapid “transition” — a phrase that has become a diplomatic codeword for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years of military-backed autocracy.
But they said caution would be needed in the aftermath.
“I don’t believe that we solve the world’s problems by flicking a switch and holding an election ... Egypt is a classic case in point,” Cameron told a security conference in Munich.
“I think a very quick election at the start of a process of democratisation would be wrong,” Merkel told the same meeting, citing her own experiences as an East German pro-democracy activist at the time of the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall.
“If there is an election first, new structures (of political dialogue and decision-making) don’t have a chance to develop.”
Mubarak, who has pledged to step down in September, said on Thursday he believed Egypt would descend into chaos if he were to give in to almost two weeks of demands by an unprecedented popular revolt that he quit immediately.
He has fashioned himself as the crucial rampart against Islamist militancy in Egypt and the indispensable player in maintaining a peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel in 1979.