Thousands of Saudis vented their anger online over a report yesterday that staff at Riyadh's King Saud University had barred male paramedics from entering a women's-only campus to assist a student who had suffered a heart attack and later died. The Okaz newspaper said administrators impeded efforts by the paramedics to save the student's life because of rules banning men from being onsite. According to the paper, the incident took place on Wednesday and the university staff took an hour before allowing the paramedics in. However, the university's rector, Badran Al-Omar, denied the report and said the university did all it could to save the life of the student, who was identified as Amna Bawazeer.
Al-Omar said campus health officials were called within minutes of her collapsing and that about 25 minutes later they called paramedics, who "entered immediately" upon arriving. A staff member who witnessed the situation, however, denies Al-Omar's version of events. Bawazeer's death sparked a debate on Twitter by Saudis who created a hashtag to talk about the incident. In the debate, many Saudis said the kingdom's strictly enforced rules governing the segregation of the sexes were to blame for the delay in helping Bawazeer. The case has similarities to a shocking tragedy in 2002, when a fire broke out at a girl's school in Mecca, killing 15 students. Rights groups reported that religious police would not allow the girls to escape because they were not wearing headscarves. (Read more Saudi Arabia stories.)