French architect Jean Nouvel's design for the Abu Dhabi Louvre was unveiled last March. ((Ateliers Jean Nouvel/Gaston Bergeret/Associated Press))

France and the United Arab Emirates have signed a deal worth $588 million Cdn to lend the Louvre brand name to a museum in the new cultural district being built in Abu Dhabi.

In the deal signed Monday, there will be a branch of the Louvre, and a series of loans of art and artifacts from a group of French museums over the next 30 years.

A cultural complex being built on Saadiyat island in the Gulf, just off the coast of the U.A.E. capital, will be home to five museums as well as luxury hotels, golf courses, marinas and private villas.

"The Louvre is the cornerstone for our Saadiyat cultural project," Tourism Minister Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoun al-Nahayan told Agence France Presse.

"Without the Louvre, we would not have the courage to plan such a huge project."

France-Museums, with representatives from the Pompidou Centre, the Musée D'Orsay and France's National Library, is overseeing development of the cultural precinct.

The France-Museums agreement involves artworks from France being displayed at Louvre Abu Dhabi when it opens in 2012.

The museum, nicknamed the "desert Louvre," is being designed by French architect Jean Nouvel.

Bruno Maquart of France-Museums and French Culture Minister Christine Albanel were in Abu Dhabi to sign the deal.

The French parliament approved the plan last October despite criticism from French intellectuals and opposition socialists.

Critics accused the Louvre of "selling its soul" by lending its collections and brand name overseas.

Albanel also offered the Emirates the French expertise in music and archeology, and said France was already giving its input into other museums to be built in Abu Dhabi.

The U.A.E. hopes to build its tourism base by creating a district devoted to arts and culture.