Sesame Street is such a revered children’s television in America that it can be hard to even imagine the show existing outside of its muppet-populated New York City universe. Still, various international versions of Sesame Street have sprung up over the years, including an Arab version called Iftah Ya Simsim, or Open Sesame.
Arabic language Sesame Street version Iftah Ya Simsim was was cut off the air nearly 25 years ago after the studio where it was produced was heavily damaged in the Gulf War. Still, the show remains well remembered among many people in Arabic region who grew up during the time where it widely broadcast throughout the Middle East.
Cairo Arafat, whose production company Bidaya Media is bringing the Arab Sesame Street back to life, is one of Iftah Ya Simsim‘s original audience members. She tells NPR that even though some international programming has come into the region subtitled in Arabic, there’s a vacuum for children’s programming that has Arabic as its primary spoken language.
“If you were in Morocco, or in Egypt, or in Syria, and in all the countries throughout the Middle East, children were able to watch the show weekly, or even daily, as the show began to progress season after season… Ten years ago there started to be a movement within the region as people began to ask, ‘Well, what’s happening to Arabic?’ There’s been a really great emphasis on ensuring that our children can speak proper Arabic.”
Just the like original Sesame Street, the Arab version will be preoccupying itself with finding key issues that effect their target audience. Arafat told Haaretz that while Iftah Ya Simsim plans on discussing lighter topics, the widespread social unrest in the region won’t be addressed head-on. Instead, the show will eventually attempt to speak to children about the roots of those issues: acceptance of other cultures.
“We found out, through our research, that children living in the Arab world now suffer from problems such as being overweight and malnutrition, unlike in the past… Children cannot understand subjects related to conflict. We can teach them indirectly that people are different and that, for instance, children in all parts of the region dress differently and talk differently.”
The Arabic Sesame Street is now broadcasting in 14 different countries throughout the Middle East, but anyone in the world can see episodes of Iftah Ya Simsim at home on YouTube.
[Image via Iftah Ya Simsim]