Muppets help conflict kids in new Arabic ‘Sesame Street’

Hadi, the name of the character portrayed by a Jordanian actor Rami Delshad, poses for a picture with Gargur, Ma’zooza and Basma from the Sesame Street TV series, in Dubai. (AFP)
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Updated 02 February 2020

Muppets help conflict kids in new Arabic ‘Sesame Street’

  • Since erupting in 2011, the war has displaced over 5.1 million Syrian children, with 2.5 million of them now living in regional host countries including Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan

DUBAI: A band of Muppets, both old favorites and new friends, will star in an Arabic retooling of “Sesame Street” with a regional twist.
In its Western iterations, the long-running franchise addresses issues including family breakdown. The new Middle East version instead seeks to help children, especially young Syrian refugees, cope with emotions.
New characters will join Cookie Monster (Kaa’ki), Grover (Gargur), Elmo and others in the new show in Arabic, called “Ahlan Simsim!” (Welcome Sesame).
“We always play and sing and try new things and have many adventures,” new puppet Basma, a five-year-old purple girl with a twin twist hairstyle, told AFP on a publicity tour in Dubai.
“We have a lot of friends in the neighborhood, but Jad is my best friend,” she added of her new co-star, a yellow boy with a tuft of canary-colored hair.
Basma, Jad and their gluttonous goat friend Ma’zooza, will take to the airwaves six days a week on Middle East satellite channel MBC 3 from Sunday Feb. 2.
The show is a partnership between the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Sesame Workshop, which is responsible for the program worldwide.
The aim is to offer “nurturing care to children and caregivers affected by the Syrian conflict,” according to a statement.
Since erupting in 2011, the war has displaced over 5.1 million Syrian children, with 2.5 million of them now living in regional host countries including Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
“Jad and I are not that similar. He is an artist and a painter. I love to sing and dance and he likes things in order. He thinks and plans while I get bored,” said Basma.
“Sesame Street” mainstay Grover, meanwhile, sets out to interview children from across the Arab world, tackling myriad issues including jealousy and how to care for loved ones.
“We are all different from each other,” Grover told AFP.
“Some of us like to sing and some of us like to dance and some like to exercise,” added the gangly blue character, beloved of children and grownups since his 1970 “Sesame Street” debut.
“But I discovered we are all alike because we love each other.”

SPEEDREAD

In its Western iterations, the long-running franchise addresses issues including family breakdown. The new Middle East version instead seeks to help children, especially young Syrian refugees, cope with emotions.

The new show is produced in Jordan and is the result of a two-year-long collaboration with numerous child development specialists.
“We have the emotional ‘ABCs’ and at the same time we present coping mechanisms to deal with these emotions. In every episode, we have a coping mechanism,” said executive producer Khaled Haddad.
He said Arab children had difficulty expressing their emotions.
“They don’t know what their emotion is, the child does not know he is terrified or angry or even jealous. Through our episodes we talk about these emotions and how to deal with them,” he added.
In one episode, Basma and Jad learn from big brother figure Hadi how to handle fear.
“You put your hand on your tummy then you take a breath through your nose — inhale and exhale. It calms you down,” Basma said, demonstrating the technique.
Jad’s character, who didn’t join the trip to Dubai, is portrayed as new to the community.
But “we don’t label him as a refugee in the show,” Haddad stressed. “He is new to the neighborhood, meets all the kids and becomes friends with them.”
He noted that across the region, “you have kids going from one place to another.”
“Our show speaks to all the children of the Arab world,” he added. “This is not for a certain group.”
The first Arabic version of “Sesame Street,” known as “Iftah ya Simsim” (Open Sesame), aired in the region from 1979 until 1990 and enjoyed immense popularity.
Filming for a second season of the new series will begin in March.
“We hope children will become smarter, kinder and better at expressing their emotions after watching this show,” Haddad said.


What message does increased US presence in Syria send to Russia and Turkey?

A Syrian man rides a motorcycle past a US military vehicle patrolling the town of Tal Tamr, in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province, on September 21, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 4 min 7 sec ago

What message does increased US presence in Syria send to Russia and Turkey?

  • Deployment of additional American troops after clash with Russians is symbolic warning to Moscow, analyst says

ANKARA: The decision by the US to boost its military presence in Syria following an encounter with Russian forces has raised concerns about the message the move sends to Turkey, Russia and Iran, as Washington attempts to reinforce its deterrent role in the region.

However, experts said the show of force is unlikely to alter the status quo in the northeastern part of the country, which is already dominated by American and Syrian Kurdish YPG forces.

In addition to about 500 troops that were already in the area, the US has deployed six armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles and a further 100 troops to the region in what is interpreted as an effort to deter Russia from meddling in areas where US and Kurdish forces jointly operate.

Last month, seven American soldiers were injured during an incident in which a Russian armored vehicle collided with a US military patrol vehicle.

Russia and Turkey held a new round of talks on Sept. 15 and 16 in Ankara about the situation in Syria. However, they failed to reach a consensus about downgrading the latter’s military presence in the rebel-held Idlib province, where more than 20,000 Turkish troops are deployed.

Russia expects Turkish troops to withdraw from areas south of M4 highway, in line with a previous agreement between the two nations, but authorities in Ankara are unwilling to pull out as they want to clear the cities of Manbij and Tel Rifaat of YPG forces.

Alexey Khlebnikov, an independent strategic risk consultant and MENA expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, said that Turkey is likely to want something in return for reaching an agreement with Russia about deployment in Idlib.

“Moscow wants Ankara to pull out its troops from south of the M4 highway because that is what both sides agreed in March,” he said. “South Idlib in exchange for some concessions in the northeast and areas where Kurds are present might result in an agreement between Ankara and the Kremlin.”

The deployment of additional US forces is unlikely to affect the discussions between Turkey and Russia or alter the dynamics of their relationship, according to Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford.

“They are principally a symbolic warning shot to Russia not to harass or inflict harm on US forces in Syria,” he said. “But even their ability to deter Russian aggression is limited, as Moscow is very confident that the US would choose to withdraw from Syria rather than drag itself much deeper into the Syrian conflict, at least as long as Donald Trump remains president.”

The effect on the ground of the additional deployment will therefore be marginal, Ramani added, but it might lead to deeper discussions in Washington about the goals of the mission in Syria and whether the US needs to be there, which could have longer-term effects after the US elections in November.

Joe Macaron, a Middle East foreign-policy analyst at the Arab Center, said that the US sent additional troops to Syria to reinforce the defensive posture of existing forces.

“The White House only gave a green light for an additional 100 troops for 90 days, which incidentally coincides with the end of Trump’s first term,” he said.

Therefore, he added, the move is unlikely to have any significant effect on regional dynamics as Russia and Turkey await the outcome of the US elections, which could redefine Washington’s relations with Moscow and Ankara.