in: Social Sciences 10 (12), 1-23
Social contracts and state fragility represent two sides of one coin. The former concept highlights that governments need to deliver three “Ps”—protection, provision, and political participation—to be acceptable for societies, whereas the latter argues that states can fail due to lack of authority (inhibiting protection), capacity (inhibiting provision), or legitimacy. Defunct social contracts often lead to popular unrest. Using empirical evidence from the Middle East and North Africa, we demonstrate how different notions of state fragility lead to different kinds of grievances and how they can be remedied by measures of social protection. Social protection is always a key element of government provision and hence a cornerstone of all social contracts. It can most easily counteract grievances that were triggered by decreasing provision (e.g., after subsidy reforms in Iran and Morocco) but also partially substitute for deficient protection (e.g., by the Palestinian National Authority, in pre-2011 Yemen) or participation (information campaign accompanying Moroccan subsidy cut; participatory set-ups for cash-for-work programmes in Jordan). It can even help maintain a minimum of state–society relations in states defunct in all three Ps (e.g., Yemen). Hence, social protection can be a powerful instrument to reduce state fragility and mend social contracts. Yet, to be effective, it needs to address grievances in an inclusive, rule-based, and non-discriminatory way. In addition, to gain legitimacy, governments should assume responsibility over social protection instead of outsourcing it to foreign donors.