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Middle East tensions escalate in wake of Saudi mass beheadings

Tensions within the war-ravaged Middle East have escalated sharply in the wake of Saudi Arabia’s January 2 mass executions of 47 prisoners, including a prominent Shia cleric who had criticized the ruling monarchy and its suppression of the country’s Shia minority population.

Saudi Arabia cut all diplomatic ties with Iran on Sunday, using angry protests against the beheading of the Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, as the pretext. Demonstrators Sunday stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and firebombed a consular facility in the Iranian city of Mashhad. At least 50 of the protesters were arrested and no Saudi functionaries were injured.

On Monday, the Saudi monarchy followed up its severing of diplomatic links with the announcement that it is also banning all flights to and from Iran and also cutting trade ties.

The Saudi actions were followed Monday by Bahrain and Sudan severing diplomatic ties with Iran as well. Bahrain, which is host to the US Fifth Fleet, is a majority Shia country ruled by a dictatorial Sunni monarchy. Saudi troops and tanks played the decisive role in suppressing mass protests that swept the country in 2011.

The New Year stock sell-off

The first trading day of 2016 quickly turned into a global financial debacle, with stock markets all over the world plummeting after the Chinese government shut down its major exchanges to prevent a full-scale crash.

The sell-off confirmed the year-end expressions of foreboding by bourgeois commentators over the prospects for world capitalism in the new year. Whether Monday’s market rout is the beginning of an implosion of unsustainable financial bubbles or an anticipatory financial heart attack remains to be seen. One thing is certain, however. It is a symptom of profound and insoluble contradictions that have only intensified since the Wall Street crash more than seven years ago.

The collapse on Chinese markets, with the Shanghai Composite Index closing with a loss of 6.9 percent, was triggered by new data showing that Chinese manufacturing activity fell in December from the already depressed level of the previous month. The December decline marked the tenth consecutive monthly contraction.

2016 will be a year of escalating class struggle

Class conflict will become an ever-more dominant feature of life in 2016 as the ruling classes in the US and around the world demand that workers pay for the global economic crisis and the cost of endless and expanding war.

Last year was marked by significant initial expressions of growing opposition among workers internationally. Among the most critical battles was the fight of autoworkers in the US, the center of world capitalism.

During the latter months of the year, the corporations and the United Auto Workers union were only able to overcome mass opposition to pro-company contracts at Fiat Chrysler (FCA), General Motors and Ford through a campaign of lies, intimidation and reports of vote-rigging. Even so, workers at FCA voted down a national contract backed by the UAW for the first time in 32 years.

The mass beheadings in Saudi Arabia

Washington’s closest ally in the Arab world, the dictatorial monarchy of Saudi Arabia, ushered in the New Year with a torrent of blood, simultaneously executing 47 prisoners.

This wave of state murders unfolded at 12 separate prisons across the kingdom. At eight of them, the condemned were beheaded, while at four others they were cut down by firing squads. The headless corpses were then crucified and left hanging in public as a hideous warning to any who would even contemplate opposing the absolute power of the ruling royal family.

The most prominent of those put to death was Nimr al-Nimr, a Muslim cleric and leading spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s oppressed Shiite minority. Nimr, who was interrogated under torture and then brought before a kangaroo court, was convicted on charges that included “disobeying the ruler” and “encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations.”

These “crimes” stemmed from the mass protests that swept Saudi Arabia’s predominantly Shiite Eastern Province in 2011, expressing popular demands for democratic reforms and an end to the Sunni monarchy’s discrimination and oppression of the Shiite population.

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