Al-Swed, 21, said that he was inspired by the campaign that was carried out in many other countries and wanted to bring happiness to the kingdom. In a 3-minute long video posted on YouTube, the Saudi youngster is seen giving hugs to people on a street of Riyadh. Motorists who saw the Free Hugs sign pulled over and hugged Al-Swed.
While the video went viral after it appeared online on 19 November, it garnered mixed responses from social media users. Some people supported the campaign with encouraging words like, “We need more people like you doing simple stuff for wonderful reasons.” Others shunned the act and demanded that the Saudi be stopped for imitating western culture.
Local daily Al Hayat reported that Saudi Arabia’s religious police arrested two Saudis in Riyadh for initiating the Free Hugs campaign in public and thereby violating local laws.
The Free Hugs Campaign was conceived in 2004 by Australian Juan Mann, who after going through a particularly difficult time in his life, started offering hugs to strangers in public places.