in: World Development, special issue
The concept of the social contract is a powerful tool for the analysis of state-society relations and can, in particular, help us understand recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The term is increasingly used in social science – in particular with reference to the MENA – but has never been fully defined. This special issue intends to fill this gap. The introductory article develops a framework for understanding what the term ‘social contract’ is about and shows how that concept can help to interpret differences and changes in state-society relations.
The following articles in this collection apply the concept to the countries of the MENA. Hinnebusch argues that MENA countries had similar social contracts after independence, based on generous social benefits rather than political participation, and that these degenerated after 1985 because of budgetary constraints and changes in the international environment. Social contracts became less inclusive, which provoked the Arab uprisings in 2010-11. Heydemann claims that the Arab uprisings have given rise to even more exclusionary social contracts, and Ibrahim provides evidence for what this means for low-income groups in Egypt. Ahram and Revkin show that the so-called Islamic State was able to build up a specific kind of social contract in the areas it controlled.
Four articles focus on policy fields where there is potential for reforms that could improve social contracts in MENA countries: subsidy reform (Loewe and Vidican Auktor), economic policy making (El-Haddad), education (Sobhy) and the distribution of land and water in rural areas (Houdret and Amichi). Furness and Trautner then discuss what it takes to establish a new national social contract in countries where it has been destroyed by war, focussing on Iraq and Libya.