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By David Gilmour

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Traditionally, they are peasants from Mount Lebanon, the south and the Bekaa valley, although by the 1970s they also formed a large section of the 'belt of misery' around Beirut. They are the poorest of the Lebanese sects and, because of their high birth rate, have recently become the largest. A third Islamic sect, though to Orthodox Muslims they are heretics, are the Druzes. They practise a secret faith and only their men can be initiated into it. Among other things they believe in predestination, reincarnation and the divinity of the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim (996-1021 AD).

In any case, it was only the small, left-wing parties who might be prepared to follow a leader of another sect. The traditional groups, without exception, followed leaders from their own communities: Saeb Salam, Rashid Karami, or members of the Solh family for the Sunnis; Pierre Gemayel, Raymond Edde and Camille Chamoun for the Maronites; Kamal Asaad, Sabri Hamadeh and, more recently, the Imam Musa Sadr for the Shi'ites. But if a za'im's support was limited to members of his own community, it was also limited to a particular locality.

During the fighting between the Maronite and Druze l 26 The Eve of the Civil War communltles in the middle of the nineteenth century, some Shi'ites fought for the Maronites while the Greek Orthodox assisted the Druzes. Religious persecution has been rare in Lebanon. When it has taken place it has usually been amongst co-religionists: Sunnis against Shi'ites or Maronites against the Greek Orthodox. From 1516 to 1860, Mount Lebanon was a largely autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire, although the coastal plain was more firmly under the controloftheTurkishauthorities.

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