Saudi Arabia rang in 2016 by executing 47 people, including prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was charged not only for his statements against the government but also for shooting at police during protests. The extraordinary bloodbath, which was spread across 12 Saudi cities, appeared to be largely symbolic and timed for maximum impact.
Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran, quickly stepped up to condemn the execution of Nimr, who held the nation’s support. The two governments issued back-and-forth statements with no middle ground in sight. A number of media outlets described the executions as “worthy of ISIS,” and Saturday evening saw a throng of Iranian protesters overtake the Saudi embassy in Tehran with fists and Molotov cocktails.