‘Smarter, Stronger, Kinder’

Interests at Stake in the Remaking of Iftah ya Simsim for Gulf Children

In: Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication
Naomi Sakr University of Westminster UK

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Heralding the imminent screening of a new series of Iftah ya Simsim (Open Sesame) for pre-schoolers on Gulf television in 2015, the managing director of the show’s production company described it as the culmination of ‘passion and commitment’ on the part of ‘dozens of individuals across international boundaries’ over four years. Joint efforts of individuals and institutions on that scale imply shared objectives. The publicly declared objective of the partner of Iftah ya Simsim, Sesame Workshop in New York, is to offer fun lessons that will make Gulf children ‘smarter, stronger and kinder’, a significant ambition given educational and health issues in parts of the region. Yet the reality of international collaboration made the project even more complex. My study explores the interests at stake in making the series, by Sesame Workshop, the Arab Bureau for Education in Gulf States based in Riyadh, and Bidaya Media, the Abu Dhabi-based joint venture created to produce the shows. I found that the challenge of collaboration was lessened because different institutions were responsible for different phases of the project, public narratives about it played down culturally-sensitive concerns that informed the curriculum underlying it, and widespread nostalgia linked to the 1970s version of the show implied that Iftah ya Simsim was itself part of Gulf traditions.

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