After 25-Year Hiatus, First Arabic-Language 'Sesame Street' Opens Again Iftah Ya Simsim was one of the earliest foreign-language Sesame Street spinoffs when it launched in 1979. But the beloved show went dark when its studio was partially destroyed during the Gulf War.
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After 25-Year Hiatus, First Arabic-Language 'Sesame Street' Opens Again

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After 25-Year Hiatus, First Arabic-Language 'Sesame Street' Opens Again

After 25-Year Hiatus, First Arabic-Language 'Sesame Street' Opens Again

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Now, the return of a beloved TV show after 25 years. If you grew up in the Middle East in the 1980s, there's a good chance this theme song sounds familiar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IFTAH YA SIMSIM" THEME SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in Arabic).

RATH: "Iftah Ya Simsim" was produced out of Kuwait and was the first Arabic-language version of "Sesame Street." The name means open sesame. Cairo Arafat remembers watching the show with her younger siblings.

CAIRO ARAFAT: If you were in Morocco or in Egypt or in Syria - in all of the countries throughout the Middle East, children were able to watch this show weekly and sometimes even daily as the show began to progress season after season.

RATH: When it was launched in 1979, "Iftah Ya Simsim" was one of the earliest foreign-language spinoffs of "Sesame Street." But their studio in Kuwait City was partially destroyed during the Gulf War in 1990. "Iftah Ya Simsim" went off the air, and it stayed off long after the war ended. Over the years, new shows came out that were popular with kids, but often they were western programs dubbed into Arabic or just subtitled; nothing teaching language the way "Iftah Ya Simsim" did.

ARAFAT: Ten years ago, there started to be a movement within the region as people begin to ask, well, what's happening to Arabic? There's been a really great emphasis on ensuring that our children can speak proper Arabic.

RATH: And today, many of the kids who grew up with "Iftah Ya Simsim" are parents themselves. It was pretty clear to Cairo Arafat and others, the time was right for the show to return.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "IFTAH YA SIMSIM")

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: "Iftah Ya Simsim."

RATH: Her production company, Bidaya Media, is producing the new "Iftah Ya Simsim" from studios in the United Arab Emirates and premiered their first episode on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IFTAH YA SIMSIM" THEME SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in Arabic).

RATH: The theme song is the same, but the show got a serious upgrade - bright, beautiful HD, gorgeous colorful sets. But in the premier, a sandstorm has just hit, and the place is a mess. Grover, his name here is Gargur, comes by to help clean, and everyone learns a lesson about recycling.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "IFTAH YA SIMSIM")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) (Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Gargur) (Speaking Arabic).

RATH: Even though it's in Arabic and frankly looks a bit nicer than our own "Sesame Street" - Gordon's brownstone doesn't have a garden like a fountain like they have here - there's still a lot Americans would recognize.

ARAFAT: Elmo and Ernie and Bert and the Cookie Monster.

RATH: More of a biscuit monster, really.

ARAFAT: He loves the date biscuits. You know, dates are common here, so he's into the date biscuits.

RATH: The differences, she says, don't matter.

ARAFAT: Children are curious. Children want to feel loved. Children want to learn new things. They want to see funny things. They love music. I think those are the things that unify children across all countries.

RATH: That's Cairo Arafat. Her company, Bidaya Media, is producing the new version of "Iftah Ya Simsim." The show is back on the air starting this weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IFTAH YA SIMSIM" THEME SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in Arabic).

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