The social contract, as the basis of the relations between rulers and populations in the Maghreb region, is highly contested especially since 2011. However, the rural dimension of this phenomenon remains yet under researched. Building on related emerging critical studies, this paper coins the term of a ‘rural social contract’ and analyses what it embodies. It highlights how the unequal ownership and use of water and land resources contribute to the marginalization of the large majority of rural populations and to their growing discontent. The article argues that three trends currently contribute to the re-articulation of the social contract in rural areas. Firstly, overexploitation and climate change lead to a severe degradation of water and land resources which challenges the established patterns of use and redistribution of these resources. Secondly, agricultural policies focusing on export production and on large entrepreneurs lead to further marginalization of small farmers. Thirdly, the emergence of new rural actors challenge the established social relationships. On the basis of this analysis, the article frames the major challenges, dynamics and characteristic of a newly emerging rural social contract in the Maghreb.