by Marwa Yahya
CAIRO, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) -- With the removal of Egypt's Islamist president Mohamed Morsi souring bilateral relations with Qatar, experts said that a turnaround may be possible and the progress in Egypt's transitional roadmap can rejuvenate ties between the two countries.
After ousting Morsi in early July, Egypt's army-backed interim government announced its roadmap for the country's future, which includes presidential and the parliamentary elections.
"Ties between Egypt and Qatar, which has been watching the political changes in Egypt closely, have dramatically deteriorated, " said Samir Ghattas, head of Cairo-based Maqdis Center for Strategic and Political Studies, noting how Qatar backed the Muslim Brotherhood, the influential Islamist group from which Morsi hails, in the past.
"With the progress of post-Morsi transitional roadmap, the Muslim Brotherhood power will gradually shrink and the Gulf country may review its policies regarding Egypt," Ghattas told Xinhua, stressing Egypt's influential rule in the region.
During Morsi's rule, Qatar offered Egypt an economic support package of eight billion U.S. dollars, including one billion U.S. dollars for grants, four billion U.S. dollars for deposits in Egypt's Central Bank and three billion for treasury notes bought from the government.
The oil-rich Gulf state had even committed to pump investments worth up to 18 U.S. billion dollars into the Egyptian economy.
However, after Morsi's ouster, Egypt was forced to repay half a billion dollars to Qatar in early November and will repay another half in December after Qatar declined a request from the interim government in Cairo to extend the deadline of its repayment.
This move has led dozens of protesters to demonstrate outside the Qatari embassy last week. They demanded the Qatari ambassador be expelled while other protesters reportedly burned the country's flag. Protests were also directed towards Qatar-based television network Al-Jazeera with some calling for the closure of its Cairo office, denouncing what they said was "blatant interference in Egypt's internal affairs."
"The Qatari TV channel has become a base for leading Brotherhood members to defame Egypt after ousting Morsi, and Doha also hosted several members of the pro-Morsi alliance on its territory," Ghattas said, highlighting the animosity some Egyptians feel towards media perceived as supporting the Brotherhood.
According to Ghattas, it is likely that the countries could achieve a "cold peace," noting that Qatar has great ambitions to play a regional role, supported by its huge financial surplus, strong relations with the West.
"It isn't a secret that the relations between Egypt and Qatar have been difficult, and that it raised many concerns regarding the Qatari practices," Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said, referring to the country's support for the Brotherhood and Al- Jazeera's perceived bias, while still calling Qatar "a member of the Arab family."
Saeed al-Lawindi, researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, also agreed that the relations between Egypt and Qatar might improve as roadmap progresses, but he did says he does not see real steps towards reconciliation happening on the ground. "Qatar is still supporting the Islamists and defying the governing authorities in Egypt," he said.
Lawindi, however, predicted some gradual relief in the strained bilateral relations especially with the support of other Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help pressure Qatar to work with the interim government.