Saudi Arabia’s ultraconservative Islamic values proved fatal for a female student, prompting a national debate online over the country’s strict interpretation of gender segregation in Islam – the state religion.
The Okaz newspaper, an Arabic Saudi Arabian daily based in Jeddah, first reported the incident, holding university officials responsible for the death.
On Wednesday, Amna Bawazeer, a student at King Saud University, suffered a heart attack on campus. The Saudi media claim the girl’s life could have been saved had university authorities not resisted the entry of paramedical staff for an hour.
However, a university representative Badran Al-Omar refuted the allegations, saying there was no delay in letting the ambulance staff in and the authorities did all that was necessary to save the life of the student.
In addition, Al-Omar told The Associated Press that he spoke to the girl’s father, who said she suffered from a heart problem.
This is not the first time medical assistance was denied in Saudi Arabia for the sake of modesty.
In March 2002, Saudi religious police reportedly forced schoolgirls back into a blazing building because they were not wearing Islamic headscarves and “abayas” – special black robes for women. The fire claimed 15 lives.
Bawazeer’s death was condemned by thousands of Saudis online, who said their country needed to have more reasonable laws related to gender segregation.
Following the fatal outcome on Wednesday, professors at King Saud University demanded a thorough investigation of the case.
"We need management who can make quick decisions without thinking of what the family will say or what culture will say," Professor Aziza Youssef told the AP.
While another teacher at KSU reiterated that paramedics were not given permission initially to enter the campus, Al-Omar maintained the staff called university health officials almost immediately after the student collapsed and that about 25 minutes later they called paramedics.