By NBC News
Updated: January 2, 2016 4:39 PM ET

The Middle East was braced for sectarian violence Saturday after Saudi Arabia said it had executed 47 prisoners, including a prominent Shia cleric responsible for anti-government protests.

There were warnings of a backlash against the ruling Al Saud family after Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was named on list of prisoners carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

Al-Nimr was a central figure in protests that erupted in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring, and his execution may spark new unrest among the oil powerhouse’s Shia minority.

Scores marched through Nimr’s home district of Qatif shouting “down with the Al Saud” and, in. . .

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