x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

A toothless lion

The man who promised to wrestle a lion to improve Egypt's tourism didn't do the wrestling, because the lion wasn't interested. Al Sayed Al Essawy probably didn't help tourism, either. But his stunt opens the door to another career for him.

It was the best possible outcome of a really bad idea. When the self-described "strongest man in the world", Al Sayed Al Essawy, announced his "life or death" gladiatorial match with an adult, 230-kilogram lion, ostensibly to benefit Egypt's faltering tourism industry, it was hard to see a happy ending.

And then, to add injury to insult, Mr Al Essawy cheated, reneging on a promise to face the beast with his bare hands. When the battle was joined several days ago, the strongman was armed with a sword at his waist and a spear in his hand, and he was hiding behind a shield fashioned from an old satellite dish. What had the lion ever done to him?

But what he lacked in good sportsmanship, Mr Al Essawy made up for in persistence. Animal-rights groups roared, the government declined to help him stage the show and Egypt's tourism minister promised to stop the whole "barbaric" performance, but it was all to no avail.

In any event, the event was decidedly anticlimactic. After a half-hearted snarl, the lion lost interest in Mr Al Essawy's posturing and laid down for a rest. Cynics whispered that the fix was in, and that the inoffensive cat had been fed a whole goat, or possibly a donkey, to dim its fighting vigour. The best that can be said is that Mr Al Essawy didn't stab it while it was lying down.

A grand scheme, big promises, vigorous marketing, but not much of a result: never mind lions, Mr Al Essawy clearly has a future in politics.