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FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: The Arab Spring at Five

ISIS' Social Contract

What the Islamic State Offers Civilians

A man walks past a damaged mosque ain Raqqa, eastern Syria, which is controlled by ISIS, November 25, 2014. Nour Fourat / Reuters

Ahmed (not his real name) was working for an advertising agency in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor when the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) took control in April 2014. At first, the new regime was primarily concerned with winning hearts and minds through ideological outreach and the provision of basic services. It distributed free or heavily subsidized bread, cracked down on crime, and cleaned up the streets. Initially, it asked for little in return.

After a few months, however, ISIS became increasingly demanding. In December 2014, several ISIS representatives showed up at Ahmed’s office and ordered him and his coworkers to pay a percentage of their earnings as zakat, a mandatory charitable contribution that is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Even though Ahmed had already made his annual zakat contribution to less fortunate family and friends, ISIS insisted that he repay his dues (2.5 percent of his income and capital

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