This article reads Bashar al-Asad's rule through the prism of social activism and, in particular, through the field of charities. The sociopolitical transformations Syria experienced between 2000 and 2010—the shift in state–society relations, the opening of the civic arena, and economic liberalization—are explored through the activities of charitable associations, including their interactions with other Syrian actors, and we argue that they reflect the unraveling of the old social contract. The Syrian leadership outsourced important state welfare functions to charities while also creating nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) under its own control and supporting developmental NGOs loyal to the regime. These NGOs differed from the existing charities in terms of their social base, financial backgrounds, motivations, modes of institutionalization, and public relations strategies, and enabled the authoritarian regime to pursue a new strategy of divide-and-rule politics. At the same time, subcontracting poor-relief measures to charities eroded the regime's political legitimacy and helped sow the seeds of the 2011 uprising.