Man vs. Lion: A Macabre Fight-to-the-Death in Egypt

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If Egyptian strongman Sayed el-Essawy gets his way, he may be dead by this Saturday. In supposed honor of the start of the uprising against the dicatorship of Hosni Mubarak (Jan. 25), el-Essawy intends to take on a 600-lb lion June 25 and beat it, perhaps to death, with his own hands. It’s a showdown he claims will promote tourism in Egypt, but which Egypt’s Minister of Tourism has deemed “barbaric.” Local and international animal rights groups are appalled and the match has technically been banned, yet el-Essawy insists he will fight the lion, even in secret. Above, see Ian Lee’s incredible video for TIME with el-Essawy, one of the few interviews he has given Western media. After the jump, excerpts from an incredible interview he gave Egypt’s al-Masry al-Youm.

Al-Masry: What about animal lovers? Are you aware of how many people your lion-fighting plans have angered? People are threatening to boycott Egypt and any Egyptian products because of you.

Essawy: That’s because they don’t understand what I’m going to do. They think I’m going to kill the lion. I’m not going to kill it, nor will I be armed with a sword or dagger – those are all false reports circulated by the media for reasons I don’t understand.

Al-Masry: So, you’re not going to kill the lion?

Essawy: No. Unless it’s a matter of life or death, in which case I will be forced to kill it.

Al-Masry: When is fighting a lion not a matter of life or death?

Essawy: It’s up to the lion.

Al-Masry: Why do you think it’s been so difficult to get official approval from the government?

Essawy: Undoubtedly because of the misguided international reaction, which I truly don’t understand. God made me, and he made the lion, and he put us both on the same planet, which means the lion is fair game. Ethically, there should be no problem.

Al-Masry: If the event is successful, how will you follow it up? More lion fights?

Essawy: I have a whole series of shows planned in my head. I will pull an airplane with my teeth, and I will pull an airplane with my hair. I will also be run over by an airplane. In between each of these acts, there will be lion battles.