LONDON — The slaying of a Libyan government minister – the first killing of a top official since the ouster two years ago of dictator Moammar Gadhafi—is adding to alarms about Libya’s future. Three days of ethnic clashes in the south of the country and a prolonged standoff between Libya’s parliament and Prime Minister have prompted tribal leaders to unveil a “Save Libya” plan but some observers question whether they have any authority left to impose order.
The assassination of Hassan al-Darouei, a deputy industry minister, as he drove home from a shopping trip in the Mediterranean port city of Sirte, 450 Kilometers east of the capital Tripoli, capped two days of violence that saw an assassination attempt on a separatist leader in the eastern town of Beida and the killing of a Special Forces officer who was shot dead in a drive-by shooting in the town of Derna.
The government minister’s killing came amid rising tensions in the south of Libya where African-origin Tabu tribesmen battled Arabs in the desert city of Sabha in running battles that left 31 dead and 65 injured, according to the country’s health ministry. Ethnic violence has been endemic in Libya’s south but has worsened since Gadhafi’s ouster with flare-ups becoming more intense.
This latest episode has so far proven difficult to mediate by tribal elders drawn from across Tripoli, Misrata and Zintan. Mediation teams of elders have managed in the past to bring ethnic fighting quickly to a halt.
Sabha isn’t the only place tribal elders are trying to defuse conflict. With politics increasingly paralyzed in the capital between Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) and Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who is under pressure to resign and has been weakened by political infighting and the refusal of wayward militias spawned from the uprising against Gadhafi to disband, tribal leaders are now trying to craft a “Save Libya” plan.
They have been holding behind-the-scenes talks with party leaders to try to find a way out of the political impasse. But whether they can make a difference remains in question and some analysts doubt they will be able to exert much pressure on politicians and militia leaders alike. “No one under the age of 40 listens to the tribal leaders,” says North Africa expert Bill Lawrence, a visiting professor at George Washington University. “They just don’t have the influence people think they do.”
Tribal leaders are not the only ones with initiatives to help Libya overcome multiple challenges. Libya’s former deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushugar recently launched a ‘’Restoring Hope Initiative for Libya’’. He argues the government has failed “to “realize a minimum of achievements’’ especially in the security realm and has exacerbated the crises roiling the country without any signs of any breakthrough.
He places a lot of blame for this less on the Prime Minister and more on the GNC, which he says is ‘’split’’ and is ‘’incapable of lifting the country out of the current crises’’. He wants early elections for a new national parliament.
Anther elder statesman of the initial political leadership of the uprising, Mahmoud Jibril, who heads a party alliance of centrist groups, launched late last month the “National Salvation Initiative.” His checklist includes persuading militias to disband by offering a buy-back system for weapons with a pricelist for light and medium weapons and a deadline set for arms collection. Also, he wants towns that hand over heavy arms such as tanks and rockets to be rewarded their equivalent value in construction and development money.
Under Jibril’s plan former militia members would enjoy priority for state jobs. Sami Zaptia, the co-founder of the English-language Libya Herald newspaper, argues Jibril’s initiative is more a “shopping list of proposals being put on offer” for an impasse-breaking deal with Islamists in the GNC.
A majority of Libya’s fractious parliamentarians want to dismiss Prime Minister Zeidan but have been unable to agree on a replacement, say GNC members. The push to replace Zeidan coincides with a worsening standoff between his government and federalist militias in the East over control of Libyan oil. Since July they have controlled three key oil ports and Zeidan’s inability to engineer an end to the standoff has weakened his political standing.
Tribal leader efforts to end the standoff between the federalist militias and the central government over the oil ports have so far also failed, raising questions about whether Libya has reached the point where mediation efforts can succeed in stopping the country’s slide into chaos.