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Arabic-language Sesame Street to return to screens after 25 years

Arabic-language Iftah Yam Simsim had ceased broadcasting after 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait
Cast of Iftah Ya Simsim on the set (Facebook)

Sesame’s Street’s Arabic-language counterpart is to return to TV screens in the Middle East following a 25-year hiatus.

Iftah Ya Simsim was first aired in 1979, but was taken off the air following the bombing of the show’s studios in Kuwait City by Saddam Hussein during the 1990 Gulf war.

This Friday, a new production is scheduled to premiere across nine channels in the Persian Gulf. Aimed at children aged four to six, Iftah Ya Simsim is recorded in Abu Dhabi in Arabic and is designed to tackle issues facing societies in the Arab world, such as obesity and literacy, the New York Times reported.

“We live in such a conflict-ridden part of the world,” Cairo Arafat, managing director of Abu Dhabi-based Bidaya Media, the show’s production company, told the New York Times.

“There’s so much we can do to educate children who build a better future.”

Iftah Ya Simsim includes the well-known characters from the original American show, but also features region-specific characters such as No'man, Shams, Melsoon and Gargur.

Dr Amal Al Qubaisi, director general of Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), speaking at the show’s launch, said: "We have been working alongside Bidaya Media and other key partners from the very beginning, putting immense work and hours into research, planning and organising the educational curriculum of the new Iftah Ya Simsim to ensure that the children around the region can easily relate to the local stories and characters.”

The English-language Sesame Street first debuted in 1969 and has proved tremendously popular with successive generations around the world for its combination of colourful entertainment, music, comedy and promotion of positive social cohesion.

The show provoked controversy on its initial broadcast for its presentation of an integrated cast of black and white children. In 1970, the state of Mississippi chose to ban the show for its "highly integrated cast of children".

"When Sesame Street debuted in 1969, our goal was to better prepare children for school in the US. The founders never dreamed that the television show they created would reach children in 150 countries, some with their very own locally produced Sesame Street," Steve Youngwood, chief operating officer at Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organisation behind Sesame Street, told WAM, the Emirati news agency.

"Through the tireless work of Bidaya Media, ABEGS, JPPI, twofour54 and our wonderful partners on the ground, we are producing and delivering content that promotes the heritage, language and culture of the region, and helping kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder."