Organisers say the festival, whose 75 mainly Arab and South Asian films will be followed by seminars, hopes to foster a debate on relations between the West and Arab and Muslim countries.

But the 6-11 December event, in which movies will not face the censorship usually practised by local authorities, will also offer Arab audiences a chance to become more aware of the diversity of the Arab world and see films that touch on the thorny issue of relations with the United States and Israel.

It will be the first screening for 13 films in the Middle East and for more than 30 films in the Gulf region. 

Debuting films include Control Room, a documentary about Arabic channel Aljazeera's coverage of last year's Iraq war, and acclaimed British film The Hamburg Cell, Antonia Bird's look at the al-Qaida cell behind the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Controversial

"This is one of the first places I wanted to take it," Control Room director Jihan Nujaim said. 

The film The Hamburg Cell looks
at the
September 11 attackers 

Her film has not aired in her native Egypt despite scoring US box-office success. 

"The subject was in such demand in the United States because of the new perspective it offered for them. But you need to have real champions of these films [in the Middle East]."

Critics say The Hamburg Cell, which examines the motivations of the men who allegedly carried out the 9/11 attacks, was unlikely to get an airing in the region, where governments are under US pressure to cooperate with the "war on terror".

"It's impossible for Arabs to see these films anywhere else. They are not shown in cinemas or on television," Libyan filmmaker and organiser Muhammad Makluf told a news conference in Dubai on Sunday.

No competition

The event will also see the regional premiere of Italian director Saverio Costanzo's Private, an Arabic-Hebrew-English mix portraying a Palestinian family held hostage by Israeli soldiers. It won this year's prize at the Locarno Film Festival.

"This is a chance for Arabs to look at the Arab world, to see the work of Arab filmmakers in Europe, in exile and in their own countries," organiser Masud Amralla said. "We need to educate audiences. In these dark ages anything can be forbidden."

Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's 12 will screen one night after its world premiere and Hollywood stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Morgan Freeman and producer Harvey Weinstein are to attend.

Organisers say the festival, which has cost $6 million to stage and seen heavy international promotion, will not run a competition in its first year at least.