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In the Newsroom

November 10, 2009
At 40, Sesame Street — and Open Sesame — live on

Mohammad al Kassim is an associate producer at Worldfocus. He writes about his memories growing up with the Arabic-language version of Sesame Street.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the children’s television show Sesame Street. I grew up with Sesame Street when my family lived in Kuwait, where we watched the Arabic version, called Open Sesame (Iftah ya Simsim).

The Arabic version included all the characters in the American Sesame Street with a few changes. For example, instead of Big Bird, it had a big, lovable character named No’man. The characters had Arabic names; Bert was Bader, Ernie was Anis and Kermit the Frog was Kamel the Frog.

No Arabic children’s program in the Middle East was as influential as Open Sesame.

Open Sesame had a major influence on me as a human being. It provided me with an alternative way of learning that hardly existed in the Arab world at the time. The show was made up of actors from around the Arab world. Thus, it familiarized us with the different accents that existed among Arabs from North Africa to Egypt, passing by Iraq and the Gulf.

Open Sesame encouraged and promoted sharing, friendship, and cooperation. It taught me about numbers, the alphabet, manners and waiting my turn. To this day, I still remember many songs I learned from the show about how to be a good neighbor, wash your hands and count to ten.

The show lacked the special effects that many children’s shows have now, yet its masterful use of puppets and the always-entertaining music revolutionized children’s educational programming and learning in a region that desperately needed it then — and more gravely needs it now.

Cath Turner of Al Jazeera English reports on Sesame Street’s impact in countries from Jordan to South Africa.

– Mohammad al Kassim

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Here’s my favorite Arabic alphabet episode of Iftah ya Simsim:


Sesame Street and Mr Roger’s Neighborhood have played an important role in our lives since our son’s pre-kindergarden days in early 80s thanks to some astute observations by my wife on TV programs for children in those days. The programming has been immitated and emulated all over the world but the original cast remains the jewel in the crown. “May Sesame Street live a thousand years and may each year be a thousand days!”

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