Sabrina Mahfouz’ play tackles ‘weaponisation’ of water against women in Middle East


“The weaponisation of it (water) over so many centuries has obviously led to the situation now –where it is deepening conflict in the Middle East, with women the worst hit,” British-Egyptian playwright Sabrina Mahfouz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Raised in Cairo and London, Mahfouz wrote “A History of Water in the Middle East,” which retells the region’s colonial carve-up and subsequent water stresses, from Dubai to Baghdad.

Speaking on the sidelines of her new show, Mahfouz said “Access to water is just diminishing to the most non-existent levels,” on Tuesday evening.

More than half the world’s population is likely to live in water-scarce areas by 2050, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Mahfouz depicts a series of women who triumph over such adversity by exploiting water shortages to their own advantage.

There is an Emirati who sets up a water-based dating app, helping couples conserve the world’s most precious resource, and a singing Jordanian plumber liberated by the shortages to take up a new profession fixing leaks.

“Women are always disproportionately affected (by war),” said Mahfouz at London’s prestigious Royal Court Theatre.

They bear the brunt of family duties and fend off social pressures, too, she said.

Her stage characters discuss sexual violence against women in Yemen, who are unable even to wash, or who see their children die from water-borne diseases such as cholera.

But Mahfouz, elected as a fellow to Britain’s Royal Society of Literature last year, said her spirited characters were not to be pitied but lauded as women with an inner power.

“They’re showing a resilience and an inventiveness and an ability to adapt and succeed to try and find happiness – no matter what the external situations are,” she said.

A study in the journal Global Environmental Change found severe droughts had worsened conflicts in Arab Spring countries earlier this decade, forcing people to flee.

The most thirsty countries in the world are all in the Middle East and North Africa, with Qatar the most water-stressed country, followed by Israel and Lebanon, according to U.S. think tank the World Resources Institute. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)