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Bad romance: Abu Dhabi could jilt 'Sex and the City' sequel

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Troubled relationships are nothing new for "Sex and the City" story lines. But this one takes it to a different level: a possible snub from the Gulf city that plays the exotic backdrop for the movie sequel.

Less than two weeks before the release of "Sex and the City 2," it's unclear whether the film will be shown in oil-rich Abu Dhabi — the scripted setting where Carrie and her chic New York posse swap their Jimmy Choos for sandals and kick some sand at Middle Eastern traditions.

It's already been a rocky rapport. Emirates' officials turned down a request to film on location, forcing the crew to head to Morocco and recreate the Abu Dhabi setting. In 2008, the original "Sex and the City" film was not shown in the United Arab Emirates, where censors routinely remove scenes such as kissing, nudity and expletives from movies and television shows.

And Shooting Stars, the UAE representatives for distributor Warner Bros., said Emirates officials have still not made a decision about bringing the film to cinemas in the Gulf state after its May 27 release date.

The National Media Council, responsible for oversight of films and other media in the UAE, declined to comment.

The film exposes some of the complexities for Gulf cities trying to compete on the international stage. Abu Dhabi has aggressively marketed itself as an emerging hub for film studios and production companies. But there's a high sensitivity about plots perceived as too racy or politically charged about regional affairs.

The UAE's refusal to participate in the film reflects a desire to "control their brand," said Leila Hudson, graduate director of Near Eastern studies at the University of Arizona.

"To the Emiratis, that 'city' in the (movie) title sounds like it's referring — logically enough — to their Abu Dhabi rather than New York. That's a little too in your face," Hudson said.

Candace Bushnell's novel "Sex and the City" that formed the basis for the movies can be found prominently displayed among best-sellers in Dubai bookstores, however.

The trailer for the movie invites fans of the fashionable four to "discover how much fun forbidden can be," but scenes depicting Abu Dhabi and the Arabian desert are actually 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) away in North Africa.

In real life, Abu Dhabi plays the role of more conservative patriarch compared with its flashier neighbor Dubai — and has increasingly sets the tone for the rest of the country in the slower economic times.

Abu Dhabi's oil wealth has kept development chugging along, including satellite galleries of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums. It also appears to have exerted more pressure on Dubai authorities to rein in the Western-style freedoms that can offend conservative Gulf values.

Last month, an appeals court upheld a one-month jail sentence to a couple convicted of breaking moral codes by sharing a passionate kiss in a Dubai restaurant.

A Dubai-based movie theater manager said the "Sex and the City" sequel is still on the "tentative" schedule. She holds out hope it will be cleared for local theaters.

"Sometimes distributors and local censor board make changes at the last minute," said Hyacinth Quijano, an assistant manager for Reel Cinemas in the Dubai Mall.