On Saturday Mr. Al Essawy stepped into the cage, which was painted like an Egyptian flag, sporting a ponytail, a tank top scrawled with a pro-Palestinian slogan and the traditional Palestinian headdress, a kafiya, wrapped around his neck.
Despite vows he would be unarmed, Mr. Al Essawy brought with him a double-pronged spear, the satellite-dish "shield' spiked with nails, a machete on his belt and a dagger strapped to his ankle. As Mr. Al Essawy strutted around the cage, spectators gasped. Cameras clicked furiously.
The lion, which Mr. Al Essawy refused to give a name—he didn't want to "grow attached," he said—lazed in a prone position, gazing at the intruder even as Mr. Al Essawy thrust his spear toward its face. Mr. Al Essawy refused to attack first, he said, lest the Western press portray Islam as a violent religion.
After 20 minutes of watching the swaggering and speech-making, the lion briefly roused itself for a short roar when Mr. Al Essawy thrust his spear a little too close. But when Mr. Al Essawy hardened his jaw and grinned aggressively, the lion sat down, apparently unmoved even when Mr. Al Essawy called it a coward.
That was enough for Mr. Al Essawy to declare victory. He emerged from the cage, and friends and relatives lifted him onto their shoulders.
Trainers had apparently fed the lion an entire donkey just hours before the fight, which may have been the reason it was so sluggish. There's a metaphor for something in here, somewhere.