The ‘Free hugs’ campaign has landed in Saudi Arabia  after Bandr al-Swed, a Saudi young man released a video of him marching in the streets of the capital Riyadh offering free hugs to people of the Kingdom.
“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,” Bandr al-Swed said speaking to Al Arabiya News.
The ‘Saudi Free Hug’ video posted on You Tube shows al-Swed walking in King Mohammed Abdel Aziz street holding a banner with a ‘Free hugs’ inscription on it and offering hugs to random people.
The three-minute long video which was released on Nov.19 has surprisingly gone viral within a couple of hours.
“I wasn’t expecting this much views at all ... I wasn’t expecting it to become that big. I am really surprised,” al-Swed said.
The 21-year-old al-Swed said his free hugs mission was “the first one in Saudi Arabia” and that it was welcomed with smiles and open arms .
Social media response
Social media users expressed mixed reactions toward the #free_hug_sweetener.
“Nice idea from a Saudi man so amazing to see all ppl smile and Happy thx bro^^don't worry about sick ppl^^good luck,” wrote Twitter user @Hd_jun.
Another twitter user, @Abby Bar, offered his support to Swed saying: “That must have been tough – Thank you for having the courage – We need more people like you doing simple stuff for wonderful reasons,” while @_Lienarde wrote that the free hug campaign was “a cute and amazing idea.”
Others, however, criticized the campaign and urged al-Swed to stop it.
YouTube MrPsdk1155 described al-Swed as “a man suffering from psychological problems,” while Tehh Titannium said would be ‘doing a Saudi Free sex’ next year.
On another note Freemefouz67 accused al-Swed of mimicking the West and of forgetting his Saudi identity.
With a YouTube 600.000 views and counting in about 15 hours, the Saudi man is hoping to challenge his compatriots Hisham Fageeh, Fahad Albutairi and Alaa Wardi whose video “No woman, no drive” received over a million views in less than 24 .
“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.
The Free Hugs Campaign is an international social movement of individuals offering hugs to strangers in public places.
It was started in 2004 by an Australian man known as Juan Mann who had begun offering hugs in Sydney. The same year U.S. financial analyst Jayson Littman also did a similar campaign in New York City’s Washington Square Park.
The campaign later became popular after it appeared in a music video for the Australian rock band Sick Puppies in 2006, which has been viewed over 74 million.
By Rajia Aboulkheir