Al-Sayed al-Essawy, Egyptian 'Gladiator,' Hopes Lion Fight Will Boost Egypt's Waning Tourism Trade

An Egyptian man who proclaims to be the "strongest man in the world" believes that fighting, and perhaps killing, a lion would help fix his nation's embattled economy and tourist trade.

Al-Sayed al-Essawy, a 25-year-old from the northern Delta region of Egypt, tells the popular Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper that he was inspired to do something positive for the country's economy in the days following the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, and that he believes “the world will flock to see the Egyptian man who defeated a lion with his bare hands.”

"I discovered my incredible strength at the age of 13, and, almost immediately afterwards, promised myself that, one of these days, I would fight a lion," says al-Essawy, whose fight is reportedly scheduled for June 25. "If America, or any other country, had a man with the ability to combat the strongest creature on the planet, they would properly promote him, and use his strength to their advantage. He would become a worldwide phenomenon, and people would come from their countries just to see him. This is what I want to do for my country." Though al-Essawy insists he does not intend to kill the animal, he adds, "If it comes down to either me or him, I will have to kill him."

In addition, al-Essawy believes his feat will have a darker political significance. "When I defeat the lion -- which I will -- I will pull an Israeli flag out of my pocket, and drape it over the lion, and put my foot on it," he said. "Israel led me to this, through all their atrocities which, as a child, I grew up watching on television. The message is that even though Israel and America may be as strong as a lion -- the strongest creature on the planet -- they, too, can be defeated."

Though ancient pyramids and sun-drenched beaches made Egypt an international tourism magnet, revenue is expected to drop by a staggering 35 percent, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Now foreigners and Egyptians are afraid to come here because of what they see on television," one local tour guide is quoted as saying.

Still, not everyone is supportive of the lion fight. The Green Prophet, a Middle East-focused environmental blog, reports al-Essawy has broken animal trafficking laws by purchasing a lion on the black market for an estimated $4,000. In addition, Egypt's Tourism and Interior Ministries have refused to sanction the fight, and an online petition against al-Essawy's plan has already received over 3,500 signatures.

"While many eco-tourism options are inviting, this most recent plan to fight an endangered animal species in public will only further alienate potential tourists," writes blogger Tafline Lavlin. "The gladiators have been dead a long time. Let’s leave it that way."

So far, al-Essawy has dismissed the words of his detractors. "To my attackers I say, if you think this is wrong, maybe you should change your perspective, or at least, take it out on the bullfighters too, instead of just me," he says. "Besides, this isn’t just for fun, what I’m planning on doing. It’s to help my country, and to send an important message."

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