2. Linking Social Contracts, Different Conditions of State Fragility, and Popular Grievances
- Protection, including collective security against external threats and individual security against possible damage caused by criminal or politically motivated attacks;
- Provision of social and economic services such as access to land ware and other resources, infrastructure education, health, social protection, a good business climate, government procurement, and others; and
- Participation, that is, granting citizens a voice in political decision-making at different levels.
- accept the ruling authority of the government; and
- pay taxes or fulfil any other obligations (e.g., military service) in accordance with their ability to do so.
- Some governments fail in the delivery of protection (most often with respect to the individual security of citizens) because of a lack of authority (examples include El Salvador and Sri Lanka but no MENA countries);
- Some governments fail in the delivery of provision (e.g., infrastructure, laws to safeguard fair competition on markets or social protection) because of a lack of capacity (examples include Zambia and Burkina Faso but no MENA countries);
- Some governments fail in the delivery of participation (which holds for China but also for most MENA countries, such as Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia); and
- Some governments fail in the delivery of all three Ps. They lack authority, capacity, and legitimacy (examples in MENA are Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen). As a result, the countries suffer from frequent armed conflicts or even civil wars.
3. The Erosion of the Provisionist Social Contracts in the MENA Region after 1985
- Tunisia, commonly regarded as the only successful case of the Arab uprisings, has continued to strengthen the third P, participation—at least until summer 2021—yet reforms in terms of reprioritising the delivery of provision have stagnated so far (El-Haddad 2020; Mahmoud and Súilleabháin 2020). Economic difficulties have marred political achievements to a great degree (Chomiak 2021; Gallien and Werenfels 2019), thus leading to renewed protests.
- Jordan, Morocco, Iran, and the Gulf monarchies seem to be trying to preserve as much as possible of their old social contracts (Kinninmont 2017; Nazer 2005; Luciani 2017; Thompson 2018; Vidican Auktor and Loewe 2021). However, it is not yet clear whether “old” means the original populist–patrimonial social contracts of the 1950s–1970s, the dismantled unsocial social contracts of the 2000s, or a mix of both, such as in Jordan’s “tribal-state compact” (Yom 2020). In any case, protection ranges high on the agenda of these countries, whereas meaningful participation plays no role at all. The question is thus mainly what kind of provision the state is going to deliver in the future and to whom.
- Egypt has moved towards a protectionist contract where provision plays almost as little a role for government legitimisation as participation (Rutherford 2018). President Sisi portrays himself as the saviour of the country and the only alternative to the instability and chaos that countries such as Syria, Libya, and Yemen are witnessing and any other relevant political force, mainly the Muslim Brothers, would bring to Egypt as well. In this dictum, the delivery of protection is enough for a government to legitimise itself with the effect that the well-being of low-income households in Egypt continues to deteriorate (Ibrahim 2020; Sobhy 2021).
- Syria, Yemen, and Libya have descended into civil wars. Their governments have lost control over large parts of the territory with the effect that there is no nation-wide social contract and large parts of the population are not enjoying any of the three Ps anymore. In addition, the relations between the different (regional, religious, ethnic, socioeconomic) parts of society—which are the very important horizontal elements of any social contract—have been poisoned by mistrust and need to be restored in order to rebuild a new social contract (Furness and Trautner 2020). Thus, a new government needs to arbitrate in a fair manner between the former conflicting parties to promote its legitimacy. Social reconstruction will be more important than reconstruction of destroyed physical infrastructure (World Bank 2020).
4. Social Protection as a Cornerstone in Social Contracts
4.1. States Failing on the Delivery of Provision
- Commodity subsidies on energy, food, and water account for a high share of social policy spending in most MENA countries even though they primarily help the rich and not the poor. Many low-income earners cannot afford to purchase large amounts of subsidised commodities, even at the reduced prices (Loewe 2019). They own no cars or central heating (and hence do not buy petrol or heating oil), live in smaller homes than the rich, and have no swimming pools and often no showers (and hence consume less electricity and water). In 2010, MENA countries spent on average 6% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on subsidies, but the effects on poverty and inequality rates were negligible.8 Since then, most MENA countries have reduced subsidies but still spend substantial sums on them (Vidican Auktor and Loewe 2021).
- Direct social assistance schemes suffer from substantial administration costs—accounting for up to 86% of their total budgets (Loewe 2010a)—and from targeting errors as well. Hardly any of those programmes reach out to more than a third of the households belonging to the poorest income quintile of the population, whereas a majority of the beneficiaries (58% in Jordan, 60% in Egypt, 68% in Iraq) are not effectively poor. Therefore, these programmes reduce national poverty head-count rates by just 4% on average and the GINI coefficient by a mere one percentage point (Silva et al. 2012).
- Health costs and benefits are also unequally distributed across income groups. Most MENA governments allocate substantial shares of GDP on health (3% on average) but private households still pay large sums out of pocket—in 2017, on average 34% of all national health care costs.9 Low-income people thus often have difficulties accessing adequate health care.10 Differences in health care utilisation and achievement become obvious when comparing figures for citizens belonging to the lowest and the highest wealth quintile—for instance, under-5 mortality in Egypt (42 versus 19%), babies born in a health care facility in Sudan (9 versus 71%), 2-year-old children vaccinated against measles in Iraq (58 versus 88%), or professional medical attention to children under 5 with acute respiratory infections in Sudan (27 versus 63%) (Loewe forthcoming).
4.2. States Failing on the Delivery of Protection
- The results of a DIE research project conducted in 2015–2016 on cash transfer schemes in five fragile countries (Sierra Leone, Chad, DR Congo, Uganda, and Somalia) confirm that lack of state authority constitutes a challenge for the construction of efficient social protection schemes just as much as lack of state capacity. In Uganda, outbreaks of violence repeatedly challenged the operations of the cash transfer scheme under research, and in Chad, the state had to make additional efforts to safeguard security during the pay-out of benefits (Strupat et al. 2018). In Somalia, cash transfer projects co-operated therefore with local leaders and hawala agents (European Commission 2019).
- At the same time, the project found that social protection schemes have some, if limited, potential to strengthen state authority and thereby contribute to the delivery of protection. In Chad in particular, cash transfers have helped to reduce tensions between different societal groups and thereby have strengthened vertical trust in the government (ibid.).
- The government of Mali concentrated its efforts on building up a national cash transfer scheme in the southern part of the country, where it enjoyed higher authority. International non-governmental organisations (NGOs) therefore decided to set up local cash transfer schemes in the norther pat of the country. Over time, they adjusted the benefits and targeting criteria to those applied by the government in the South, resulting in the emergence of an effectively uniform, nation-wide programme (European Commission 2019).
4.3. States Failing on the Delivery of Participation
- The government of Iran continued to rely on provision but with a more egalitarian touch (see above).
- Morocco embarked a bit on participation. Reinvesting only parts of what it saved with subsidy reform to extend social health insurance coverage and social assistance spending, the government made huge efforts to (i) explain via extensive awareness campaigns why subsidy reform was inevitable, (ii) discuss with a large range of national NGOs how the reform could be shaped to harm the different groups of Moroccan society as little as possible, and (iii) inform the entire publication as early as possible of the results of the consultation process and the steps to be done over the years to come. However, these new ways of participation were not extended to other policy fields.In this and other instances, the main risk to real reform is that participatory opportunities concern only firmly circumscribed, often purely technical fields, or that sophisticated plans elaborated by commissions simply disappear into drawers (e.g., Zintl 2013, p. 202).
- Finally, Egypt has been relying more and more on the delivery of protection as the last and only remaining source of government legitimacy. The government cut down heavily on subsidy spending but used just a bit of what it saved for the extension of direct social transfer spending. It tightened repression much more and has been propagating the argument of being the only government able to effectively defend the individual and collective security of citizens. As warning examples, it points to Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq, where governments lost their authority to armed opposition or rebel groups and no longer were able to provide full protection to the population (Vidican Auktor and Loewe 2021).
4.4. States Failing on the Delivery of All Three Ps
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
We use the term “Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region” in accordance with the widely-used definition by the World Bank, covering Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, as well as—though rather implicitly—West Sahara. Some organisations would also include Mauritania, Somalia, Sudan, and/or Turkey.
Islamic governments are accountable for the provision of social aid to those in need, including non-Muslims. Social justice (cadāla iğtimāciyya) is a central goal of Islamic policy. This does not mean the complete leveling of income and wealth differences (equity of outcome), nor pure equity of opportunity. Islamic governments provide for social protection among others by imposing zakāt (a levy mainly on wealth) or through the awqāf (voluntary religious endowments). For these and other Islamic instruments of social protection, see Jawad and Eseed (2021); Loewe (2010a, pp. 68, 82); Tajmazinani and Mazinani (2021, pp. 28–31).
Egypt, for example, long had different power poles inside the government: the army, the president, the minister of finance, and the minister of labour. Likewise, society can be quite divided into social classes, ethnic groups, tribes and clans, religious communities, tribal groups, and other interest groups.
For instance, for some years several social contracts have existed in different parts of Syria (Furness and Trautner 2020).
“Guarantee safety of citizens” and “defend country against neighbouring countries” represented protection; “provide education, health and sanitation to all” and “create employment opportunities” represented provision; and “enable citizens to participate in political decisions” and “allow citizens to elect the government” represented participation.
Food subsidies in Egypt, for example, reduced income poverty rates by just a third in 2009, whereas energy subsidies reduced income poverty rates by less than a fifth in 2004, even though both programmes together consumed 8% of GDP at that time (Silva et al. 2012).
In 2017, private household contributions to total national health care spending amounted to 72% in Sudan, 58% in Iraq, 56% in Egypt, 54% in Morocco, and about 30% in Jordan, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Algeria (Loewe forthcoming).
For example, 46 and 45% of the women interviewed in Jordan (2018) and Egypt (2008), respectively, declared that they had difficulties financing urgently needed health care. The shares were even higher in the bottom wealth quintile (64% and 70%, respectively) (cited in Loewe forthcoming).
A comparatively low share of Egyptian respondents admitted to being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the al-Sisi government’s 3P delivery. We assume that this is partly due to a bias introduced by respondents’ mistrust and fear of government repression and does not mirror the de facto quality of government services. At the same time, Egyptians seem to be less critical and more loyal to the government in general even if they have no trust in it—something that Loewe and Albrecht (2021) call a “rallying behind the flag”-effect.
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