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May 29 (Bloomberg) — Abu Dhabi is the setting for “Sex and the City 2.” Yet the movie may never be shown there.
The Warner Bros. film, released this week in the U.S., moves its high-rolling stars from New York to one of the richest cities in the world — where it has stirred anger even before the United Arab Emirates censors decide if its sexual content is unacceptable. The first “Sex and the City” film in 2008 was banned for its risque story.
Critics of Abu Dhabi say that censorship makes it unsuitable to become a cultural hub. The emirate produces more than 7 percent of the world’s oil supply and wants to attract art, music, theater and other creative industries to help its economy diversify. The film may help boost tourism at a time when the Abu Dhabi government is aiming to lure 3 million foreign visitors a year by 2012.
“In the Middle East there are three taboos that people don’t talk about: religion, sex and politics,” said Mohammed Aboelenein, chairman of the sociology department at the U.A.E. University in Al Ain, a city in Abu Dhabi. “In the meantime we want our society to modernize. It’s contradictory.”
The new film’s scenes of the stars riding camels through the desert and confronting women in face veils are an injustice to Abu Dhabi’s diversity, said some opponents.
“In most Hollywood films, Arabs are shown either as terrorists or Bedouins,” said Aboelenein.
The film “identifies Abu Dhabi with camels?” asked Jack Shaheen, author of “Reel Bad Arabs,” a book about Arab stereotypes in film and television. “The producers and writers of Sex Inc. grew up with these stereotypes. It’s what they know — the mythology rather than the reality.”
Critics also note that the movie’s “Abu Dhabi” scenes were actually shot in Morocco. The National Media Council, the government body that decides which films are appropriate for viewing, said that it was never approached by the filmmakers about whether they could shoot in Abu Dhabi. A spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said that any talk of a ban on the film was merely speculation when the country had not yet been presented with a copy.
Abu Dhabi television programs and films cut clips showing nudity, physical intimacy, or scenes that are homosexual in nature. The emirate bans art or music deemed offensive to Islam. Popular websites including Skype and Flickr are blocked in most of the country.
Shooting Stars U.A.E., the distributor for all Warner Bros. films in the country, has no knowledge if the movie will be released, Roy Chacra, the company’s general manager, said in a telephone interview.
Until recently, Abu Dhabi was in the shadow of its less conservative neighbor, Dubai, which built its reputation as a haven for foreigners looking to join the region’s prosperity while embracing more liberal lifestyles. A mere 5-hour drive from the border of Saudi Arabia, both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are tolerant to bikini-wearing beachgoers, bars and clubs.
Abu Dhabi last year provided $20 billion in assistance to its neighbor after Dubai World, a state-run holding company, moved to reschedule payment on $26 billion debt.
“Since the economic crisis, the drying up of credit, and the spate of redundancies, both expatriates and nationals have been hurt, and social tensions have increased,” said Christopher Davidson, a professor of Middle East studies at Durham University in the U.K., who is writing a book about Abu Dhabi.
Two Britons were arrested in Dubai for kissing in public, after an Emirati woman complained that the display of affection insulted her last November. A teenager in Abu Dhabi who claimed she was gang-raped faced a possible lashing for having sex out of wedlock and she retracted the accusation.
The emirate’s non-oil businesses will contribute 50 percent of its gross domestic product by 2015, adding about $167 billion per year, as stated in its 22-year economic plan.
Abu Dhabi has built a Formula One raceway, and is working on theme parks with companies including Time Warner Inc., Ferrari SpA and MGM Mirage. The government has invested 100 billion dirham ($27.2 billion) for a cultural district on Saadiyat Island, including new branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums.