Egyptian teen science whiz defects to US after science fair

Photo: Christopher Reeve for

Photo: Christopher Reeve for

A teenager from Egypt accused of illegally protesting the Egyptian government defected to the US after participating in an international high school science fair held in Los Angeles.

"Abdullah Assem, 17, decided not to board a Cairo-bound plane Sunday for fear he would be arrested upon landing," reports the LA Times. "For the last four days he has stayed with family friends in Los Angeles County while he seeks asylum in the US." He was one of 1,787 teens who took part in a six-day International Science and Engineering Fair sponsored by Intel at the Los Angeles Convention Center last week.

From Bob Pool at the LAT:

His project, "Eye Detection and Tracking-Based Communication System for Tetraplegia Patients," had qualified for the competition through one of the program's 450 preliminary science fairs. His research involved the use of eyeglasses and motion sensors to enable quadriplegics to use computers.

There's a wonderful article about the young man at, "the first time Assem spoke to the press since making the life-changing decision not to return to Egypt. " Christopher Reeve writes:

Assem said that after his arrest [in Egypt], he spent the first 24 hours in state security detention in downtown Cairo's Lazoghly. He was handcuffed, blindfolded, and assaulted. One official began to set the boy's shirt on fire, while it was still covering his torso. Assem jumped up and down until another official doused the flames. He was made it sit in an awkward position on the floor for his interrogation.

Assem made his way from the sofa to the carpeted floor to show me the position he had to maintain. I had to imagine the blindfold and handcuffs.

Officials insulted him. "You are a kaza," Assem retold, too modest to say the actual curses. One of Assem's captors, the boy says, caressed his body with a knife, saying, "I can hurt you with this. Stab you here." The knife's blade kept moving. "Cut you here."

Assem was called a terrorist, and told that he had stolen two tanks. The story changed slightly to two police cars. "They found it illogical to say that I stole tanks, so they changed it to cars," Assem said. He had also been accused of carrying a weapon, perhaps his eye-tracking machine.

After his dark night in Cairo, officials from Assiut took the boy back to Upper Egypt. Still handcuffed, he was transported in the bed of a covered security vehicle, tumbling about like a ragdoll on the five-hour ride.

"I screamed. I cried," he recalled.

[HT: @moftasa]