Egyptian teen attending science fair in U.S. defects, seeks asylum

A 17-year-old Egyptian science prodigy attending the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles this month decided to use the opportunity to defect and seek asylum in the United States out of fear that he would be arrested by authorities back home.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Abdullah Assem was supposed to board a plane to Cairo last Sunday but didn’t and has been staying with friends of his family still in Egypt.

According to The New York Times, the teenager was arrested in April by Egyptian authorities and held for two weeks in jail for allegedly forming a rebel group and for shooting at a government security building. He reported being handcuffed, blindfolded and forced to sit on the floor for more than 16 hours while he was kicked and called a traitor, the New York Times said. It also reported:

“They accused me of a crazy thing — saying I had created a group with 15 people and shot against a building that is impossible to get to,” Mr. Assem said in an interview on Thursday  at the office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose lawyers are handling his asylum request.

“When they took me in,” he said, referring to the Egyptian police, “I had no idea where I am. They were asking me about everything I have written in my life. I asked them the whole time to tell my family where I am or that I am alive, and they refused that. They just said again and again: ‘Something bad can happen to you.’”

The Egyptian government nevertheless allowed him to attend the prestigious affair in Los Angeles, apparently because of the publicity about his arrest.

The Los Angeles Times reported:

 The boy’s father, Assem Mohammed, told Egyptian news agencies that his son did not perform well in last week’s fair “because he didn’t have enough time to prepare” for judging. “He made his presentation with handwritten notes. He didn’t even have time to type it on a computer.”

As for his family back in Cairo, Farida Chehate, an attorney with the Los Angeles-area Council on American-Islamic Relations, said, “We’d hope the family is not in jeopardy,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | May 23