Ahlan Simsim (Welcome Sesame) is an Arabic co-production of Sesame Street that premiered on February 2, 2020 on MBC3. The program features "brand-new, Arabic-speaking Muppet characters with storylines that both displaced and host community children can relate to." The show's first broadcast season is based around a curriculum regarding emotions.
The series features three original Muppet characters to the series - Basma, Jad (heavily implied to be a refugee child), and Ma'zooza. In addition to human cast members, the series also includes localized versions of Grover, Cookie Monster, and Elmo.
The project, originally proposed under the working title "Sesame Seeds," was created for Middle Eastern areas with populations of Syrian refugees, including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. In addition to the main television program, the project has components bringing education to the children of the refuge camps - home visitation and caregiving, the creation of learning centers and through mass media.
The project was created in partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), where it was entered in the MacArthur Foundation's first-ever "100&Change" competition for a one hundred million dollar grant. The organizations entered the competition in 2016 and out of over 800 applicants, they were named among the eight semi-finalists in February 2017. By September, they were among the top five finalists.
Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President, Global Impact & Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, presented the organization's plan for the project at the MacArthur Foundation's presentation on December 11, 2017, where she was briefly joined onstage by Tonton, of Jordan's Hikayat Simsim.
On December 20, 2017, it was announced that Sesame Workshop and the IRC were the winners of the competition, allowing the project to move forward.
At the 2019 Cannes Lions festival, Sherrie Westin and Brown Johnson unveiled the three new Muppet characters to be used in the series, including a female monster named Basma. Behind-the-scenes production of the series was the focus of a 60 Minutes segment in November 2019.
- Meet the New Muppets of Ahlan Simsim!, Medium, November 17, 2019.
- "Introducing...Ahlan Simsim!," Medium, February 20, 2019.
- 60 Minutes, November 18, 2019.
- Sesame Workshop press release (February 15, 2017)
- Sesame Workshop press release (September 19, 2017)
- "Sesame Street to help Syrian refugees", BBC News, December 20, 2017.
- Sesame Workshop on Twitter