But the horses have long since left the barn. While the crown prince may be able to change the tone inside the kingdom, the imams’ view of Shiites is now copied by followers throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds who do not see Shiites as real Muslims; it is now far too widespread to undo. From Egypt to Lebanon to Jordan and Tunisia, many orthodox Sunni Muslims believe that Shiites are determined to convert Sunni societies to Shiism. Sectarian discourse, in fact, has become the chief mobilizing factor in the Middle East, thanks in large part to Iranian expansionism in Syria and Iraq. Without Saudi Salafists driving the argument, others around the world will surely step up in their stead.
One silenced Saudi, Mohammad Arefe, who has nearly 21 million followers on Twitter, is revered by Salafists and other types of Islamists throughout the region. In June 2013, he tweeted: “The relationship between Hezbollah [the main Shiite force in Lebanon, funded by Iran] and Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei is to spread Shiism in the [Sunni] Arab world.” Earlier, he said that Shiites murdered Sunnis in Iraq in terrible ways: “They would use the most severe torture methods against them. They would kidnap a child, boil him in water, skin him like a sheep, and then, they would bring him on a platter, wrapped in a cloth, and when his family uncovered the platter, they would see this . . . boy.” Arefe was detained and questioned in September, then freed. Perhaps he is considered too powerful to penalize permanently. But he is no longer speaking online on Shiites, the war in Syria or politics in general.