A Gulf nation that has tried to cultivate an image as a welcoming destination for Westerners has banned a book because it has a gay character.

Novelist Geraldine Bedell was invited to Dubai’s first International Festival of Literature.

The oil-rich Arab nation, one of the seven United Arab Emirates, has attracted high-profile novelists.

Despite its claims that it is the most modern and “Westernised” state in the region, homosexual relations are still considered a crime and punishments range from jail to deportation and the death penalty.

The majority of its 5.6 million residents are foreigners and EU citizens have been jailed for conducting gay and lesbian relationships.

Last year there was a crackdown on “immoral” activities that led to wave of deportations.

Organisers of the book festival were initially enthusiastic about Ms Bedell’s novel The Gulf Between Us, which is set in the region.

However, when they actually read it, they discovered one of the minor characters is a gay sheikh with an English boyfriend.

They wrote to Ms Bedell telling her not to come to the festival and said her novel was “controversial” and could cause “political fallout.”

The Gulf Between Us has now been banned in Dubai.

“It is incredibly affectionate towards the Gulf,” Ms Bedell told The Times.

“I feel very warmly towards it, except when things like this happen.

“It calls into question the whole notion of whether the Emirates and other Gulf states really want to be part of the contemporary cultural world.

“You can’t ban books and expect your literary festival to be taken seriously.”

In September a Bulgarian woman and her Lebanese partner were sentenced to one month in jail after being found guilty by a Dubai court of “indecent acts.”

Dubai’s Court of Appeal upheld the convictions.

The 36-year-old Bulgarian and 30-year-old Lebanese woman, who were discovered kissing on a beach, were deported after they served their sentences.