GLD Working Papers

Does the Islamic State Have a "Social Contract"? Evidence From Iraq and Syria

Mara Revkin


This paper attempts to make three contributions to the rebel governance literature through an indepth case study of the Islamic State. First, I identify the key elements of the social contract that the Islamic State claims to be offering to its “citizens” in Iraq and Syria, as described in its official documents and communications. Second, I present evidence that the Islamic State’s legal system is the primary arena in which this social contract is constructed and enforced. Third, I argue that civilian cooperation with the terms of the Islamic State’s social contract is closely related to the perceived legitimacy of its institutions. In areas where the Islamic State attempts to impose taxes or conscription without having previously established an apparatus for the delivery of essential services and a legal framework to legitimize its rule, civilians are more likely to resist its policies. The paper draws on primary source documents, interviews with 88 Syrians and Iraqis who have lived in Islamic State-controlled areas, and Twitter data.

We Don't Need No Education: Resource Endowments and the Demand for Social Service Provision

Jumana Alaref, Hans Lueders, and Ellen Lust


Conventional wisdom holds that citizens demand high quality service provision across all countries and sectors, and as a result, attributes variations in education, health and other human development outcomes to supply-side factors. However, this paper challenges this assumption. We argue that such outcomes are the result of both supply- and demand-side factors, and thus should not be viewed as reflecting variation in service delivery. Moreover, citizen demand for services varies across both countries and sectors, and it does so systematically. We demonstrate the importance of demand-side factors through an analysis of the impact of natural resource rents on health and education outcomes. While citizens in rentier and non-rentier states both demand high quality health services, those who benefit from oil and gas rents are less likely to need and demand high quality education. This is because citizens in rentier economies can obtain a high standard of living regardless of the quality of education they attain, but oil rents have no systematic impact on their demand for good health. We support this argument through cross-sectional analysis of national-level health and education outcomes in nine countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Doing so highlights the importance of taking citizens’ demand for services seriously, draws attention to problems of using health and education outcomes as measures of service delivery, and extends the literature on rentier states.

The Rationality of an Eschatological Movement: The Islamist State in Iraq and Syria

Adam Baczko, Gilles Dorronsoro, Arthur Quesnay, and Maaï Youssef


Commonly described as mad, fanatic, and medieval, the Islamic State is a political enigma. The behavior of its militants, its relationship with the local society and its relationship with the rest of the world are all puzzling. While extensive research into the operational structures of the Islamic State is hindered by the clandestine nature of the organization, this paper aims to overcome these difficulties by drawing on over 60 interviews conducted within Syria and Iraq between 2012-2015. These interviews not only examine the emergence, expansion and success of the Islamic State, they also highlight the everyday conditions of those living under its grip. We argue that the perceived irrationality of the Islamic State results from the formation of a new regime of truth, based on an eschatological reading of Islam, which subordinates the alternative modes of veridiction. The Islamic State’s regime of truth allows the coexistence within the same organization of a rational-legal system, an ethic of conviction, and a charismatic legitimacy. To develop our argument, we look successively at the closure of the organization, the imposition of its revolutionary model upon society, and its relationship to the outside world, highlighting its consistency at each level.

Use of Tablet Computers to Implement the Local Governance Performance Index (LGPI) in Tunisia

Lindsay Benstead, Kristen Kao, Pierre F. Landry, Ellen Lust and Dhafer Malouche


This paper shares the advantages and challenges of using tablets to implement a complex survey on local governance and offers practical advice stemming from lessons learned during the successful implementation of the survey. It focuses on the experience of the Program on Governance and Local Development Using tablets offered several advantages. They allow for implementation of a long, complicated questionnaire and to implement survey experiments in which randomized subpopulations received different “treatments” (namely, versions of questions, framing questions, and list experiments). Tablets also make it possible for us to verify the location of respondents according to our sampling design. This geographical information is important at the data analysis stage by making it possible to account for clustering and “neighborhood effects” within small localities. Additionally, tablets allowed us to time the length of each interview precisely, which turned out to be important for catching data collection errors in the field. Using the tablets entailed some particular challenges as well. These included start-up costs of learning new software, programming the questionnaire, and the need to do pretesting and piloting to resolve coding bugs that can potentially introduce errors into the study. There are also important logistical considerations, including the availability of electricity and Internet connectivity. Finally, although tablets remove some sources of survey error, they may introduce others. It is important to recognize these potential problems in order to guard against them.

A revised version of this paper has recently been published in Survey Practice and is available to download here.

Facilitating Facts on the Ground: The "politics of uncertainty" and the governance of housing, land, and tenure in the Palestinian gathering of Qasmiye, South Lebanon

Nora Stel


Lebanese and Palestinian authorities unyieldingly proclaim that avoiding naturalization (tawteen) and realizing return (‘awda) is their main priority. This places the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon under a state of exception in which institutional ambiguity characterizes governance, because any form of normalization and formalization is considered a prelude to tawteen and a threat to ‘awda. This uncertainty is particularly poignant in Lebanon’s unofficial camps, or “gatherings.” Palestinians living in the gatherings do not fall outside the protection regime of the Lebanese state merely because they lack citizenship. They are also partly excluded from UNRWA’s service mandate because they do not reside in official camps. The consequences of this institutional ambiguity are especially pertinent in the governance of housing, land, and tenure. Institutional ambiguity complicates construction and exposes residents of the gatherings to eviction from their properties. At the same time, it determines the coping mechanisms available to residents to deal with these predicaments. In the absence of formal entitlements related to citizenship or camp-residence, inhabitants of the gatherings rely on informal and politicized strategies geared toward maintaining “facts on the ground.” My case study of the governance of property rights in Qasmiye gathering documents how the state of exception in Lebanon’s Palestinian gatherings is upheld by what can be called a “politics of uncertainty”: both Lebanese and Palestinian authorities deliberately maintain the institutional ambiguity of the gatherings. As such, the paper contributes to understanding the endurance and reproduction of marginalizing governance practices—in the specific context of Lebanon’s Palestinian gatherings, but also with reference to other protracted refugee populations and inhabitants of informal settlements across the Arab world.