Khalifa Haftar, the military strongman who controls much of eastern Libya, is reportedly in a coma in a Paris hospital after suffering a stroke.
The 74-year-old general collapsed during a visit to Jordan earlier in the week and was evacuated to France, according to Le Monde.
A spokesman for Gen Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) initially denied the reports but has since declined to comment.
Gen Haftar won the backing of Egypt, the UAE, and Russia by presenting himself as a stabilising force in Libya who could be relied on to confront Islamist factions in the country’s east.
While the Western powers formally support the Gen Haftar’s rivals in the UN-backed government in Tripoli, Western governments had been increasingly open to dealing with the military leader.
Gen Haftar’s death or incapacitation would further scramble the chaotic politics of Libya, which have been in flux since the overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Jalel Harchaoui, an associate with North Africa Risk Consulting, said Gen Haftar’s greatest strength is his ability to woo foreign backers with his anti-Islamist stance, and that his actual military and political muscle is limited.
“There is a narrative that portrays him as a kind of Sisi or Assad at the head of a disciplined, robust army that is conducting the fight against the Islamists. The reality is that it’s not really an army and his coalition is deeply divided,” said Mr Harchaoui.
He predicted that if Gen Haftar were permanently incapacitated one of sons might try to take up his mantle but that other elements of his coalition – especially local factions from eastern Libya – might go their own way.
Gen Haftar was reportedly brought to the Val-de-Grace military hospital in Paris on Wednesday after falling ill in Amman, the Jordanian capital.
Ahmed al-Mismari, an LNA spokesman, initially denied those reports insisted that the general was in good health. But a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Mismari declined to directly address the issue of the general’s health.
Gen Haftar had made some progress in changing Western perceptions about him from a local warlord to a potential Libyan statesman.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, hosted a summit in July 2017 where Gen Haftar and Fayez al-Sarraj, the prime minister of the UN-backed government in Tripoli, were treated as equals and publicly shook hands.
The two sides publicly agreed to national elections but nothing came of it.