Egypt Prohibits ‘Free Hugs’ Event, Warns it Will Spread ‘Debauchery’

By U'mar Elbieh | April 1, 2016 | 5:58pm EDT
Students at the American University of Beirut hug each other during a ‘Free Hugs’ campaign at the AUB campus in Beirut, Lebanon on Dec. 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

Cairo ( – Egyptian authorities moved quickly to shut down a social media-driven “free hugs” day planned in a Red Sea resort town on Thursday, promising to arrest anyone involved.

The anonymous initiators of the idea called for an Egyptian version of “Free Hugs” campaigns popular in various parts of the world.

“We’d like to be like the outside world, having freedom to do what we want without interference from others,” they said in an online posting.

But some residents of Hurghada, a resort town of 260,000 about 280 miles south-east of Cairo, opposed the idea, saying it went against religion and morals. In the event it did appear to have gone ahead.

Egyptian police warned earlier that anyone who participated in the planned event at the Hurghada marina or any similar one in the future would be charged with the offense of “debauchery,” which carries a three-year prison term, in addition to a fine.

Tourism Police chief Ahmad Chahin was quoted as saying no application for the event had been received by organizers. Even if one had been, permission would not be granted, he said, since such events “contradict Egyptian laws and public morality.”

Ahmed Sultan, a 25 –year-old call center worker in Cairo, who registered for the event before the police prohibited it, called it “a new idea – you don't get to do this every day.”

“We only see this stuff in other foreign countries that are totally better than here in Egypt,” he said by phone on Thursday. “We don’t get any kind of physical contact with other genders because ‘it’s against the morals,’ and these morals are here since the early 1900s. I think it’s time for a change.”

Asked whether those wanting to participate in a free hugs day had a particular message they wanted to convey, Sultan said, “It’s time for a change in the policy in Egypt. We want more freedom to express our feelings in public without any fear.”

Alia Dyaa, a Hurghada mother of two young children who objected to the idea, explained her reasons.

“There are public morals and religion that prevents us from doing this in public while we are not even married to these persons we are physically engaging with in public,” she said by phone. “It’s a total disaster and shame for something like this to happen in Egypt,” she said. “I don't want my children to see this happening and grow up thinking it’s okay to hug others because an event suggested so.”

Asked whether she really believed a free hugs day could damage Egyptian society, Dyaa replied, “Yes, it can.”

“We’re talking about going against religion and laws – we are not in a lawless country. We have rules that we have to follow and we cannot break these laws,” she said. “We will surely damage our children minds with these events and they will think it’s okay to hug anyone of any gender.”

Islam is the official religion of Egypt, the largest of the 22 Arab states and home to the most important seat of learning in Sunni Islam. Article two of its most recent constitution, approved in 2014, states that “Islam is the religion of the state …The principles of Islamic shari’a are the principle source of legislation.”

The constitution states elsewhere that, “Freedom of belief is absolute.”

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