Inspired by the Saudi “hugger” Bandr al-Swed seen in the video below, Abdulrahman al-Khayyal and his friend announced on Twitter that they they too were going to give free hugs on the streets.
The religious police say that both al-Swed and al-Khayyal’s “happiness” campaigns are “exotic practices” that disrupt public order.
al-Swed told a local paper: “After seeing the Free Hugs Campaign in many different countries, I decided to do it in my own country … I liked the idea and thought it could bring happiness to Saudi Arabia.”
We love how the men on the street in Riyadh jump into his arms. It’s a really cute video, worth checking out. It could break some stereotypes you might have of the typical Saudi male.
As Middle Easterners embrace more western cultures such as hugging strangers in public, the Saudi Arabian virtue police, or Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is cracking down.
The idea to hug absolute strangers started by an Australian in 2004. It took some time to make it to the Middle East but a few years ago we’ve already seen people organize Free Hugs events in Tel Aviv; you can find Free Hugs in Beirut, see video below:
If you travel to Middle East and Near East countries like Turkey, Syria or Jordan you might be surprised to see how affectionate men and boys are to each other; sometimes hugging publicly and holding hands even. But this goes on between people who know each other.
We can imagine that the Saudi virtue police are trying to wipe out the chance that there will be hugging between strangers of the opposite sex, an absolute no no in the traditional Muslim society.
al-Swed, who may get in trouble for what he uploaded to Youtube says he hopes his video becomes viral, like that done by Hisham Fageeh, Fahad Albutairi and Alaa Wardi whose video “No woman, no drive” received over a million views in less than 24 hours.
“I saw their video of course and I am now optimistic about the idea that I will be able to do as well as they did … Let’s just wait and see,” al-Swed said.
Reports say that the two were required to sign a pledge that they would not offer hugs again.
Saudi Arabia’s religious police, or mutawa, make sure that women don’t drive; they enforce modest dress codes (which is why 15 girls died in a 2002 fire); they police bans on public entertainment and they make sure businesses close five times days a day for prayers.
What do you think? Time to hug a Saudi? Or maybe a bit safer to hug a tree? At least if you live in Riyadh.