This paper situates social assistance programmes in the MENA region historically and institutionally, as part of the twin efforts to deliver social protection and influence political allegiances. The aim is to explain the well-established rationale of social safety nets and social assistance in MENA countries in order to offer a more holistic interpretation of its pros and cons as a contemporary policy instrument. The PICS does this by taking into account the long history of non-state social welfare action in MENA countries and the overriding norms that favour family-based, tradition-focused or religiously informed views of social welfare. This helps to contextualise the current rise of interest in non-contributory social assistance better as part of the wider SDG 2030 agenda. The key innovation highlighted in the PICS is that there is a well-established tradition of benevolence and non-state philanthropic activity in MENA countries which could be better harnessed to support the universalist aspirations of the SDG 2030 agenda. As key actors in the public sphere, civil society groups and philanthropic individuals may also exercise influence on state and corporate actors who hold the keys to political and economic development in MENA countries.