Welcome to Bir Tawil, a 2,000-square-kilometer land that nobody wants in Africa only Foreigners

Bir Tawil. (Sporcle)
  • Bir Tawil is caught between a rock and a hard place literally.
  • As a result of its ‘statelessness’ the region has been left desolate and has no roads or permanent inhabitants.
  • Bir Tawil’s peculiar situation started out in 1899 at the hands of the British whom happy with themselves for a job well done, removed their tea pots and toast to good health. Unknown to them they had unwittingly just opened a Pandora's box.

Ruled by no state, inhabited by no permanent residents and governed by no laws, Bir Tawil is truly the last truly unclaimed land on earth.

Wedged between the borders of Egypt and Sudan, Bir Tawil is a 2,000-square-kilometer trapezoidal piece of land that remains unclaimed to date.

As a result of its ‘statelessness’ the region which is mostly filled with sand and rock, has been left desolate and has no roads or permanent inhabitants.

From a layman’s eyes, the ‘lack of natural resources’ the barren land may explain why neither Egypt and Sudan really gives a hoot who claims and therefore doom it to

The birth of Bir Tawil and the beginning of its endless ‘pain’

Bir Tawil’s peculiar situation started out in 1899 when the United Kingdom, who held authority in the area, signed an agreement with Egypt to jointly administer Sudan, creating a condominium called the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

In reality, British had full control over Sudan since Egypt was merely a protectorate of Britain.

So, the British sat down and decided among themselves that the border between Egypt and Sudan would run straight along the 22nd parallel. 

Three years later, however, the same British decided that the agreed boundary did not truly reflect the actual use of the land by the indigenous tribes in the area and so they drew up a new boundary.

Bir Tawil problems were just starting.

A small mountain just south of the 22nd parallel, the British decided, should be administered by Egypt since it was home to the nomadic Ababda tribe, which had stronger links with Egypt than Sudan. This became Bir Tawil.

Meanwhile, a much-larger triangle of land, named Hala’ib, located north of the 22nd parallel right next to the Red Sea, was handed over to Sudanese control since this was the homeland of the Beja people who were culturally closer to Sudan.

Happy with themselves for a job well done, the British removed their tea pots and toast to good health. How wrong were they, unwittingly they had just opened a Pandora's box.

Caught between a rock and a hard place

Bir Tawil is caught between a rock and a hard place literally. Lying adjacent to Bir Tawil is another much larger triangle of land—Hala'ib—which is also just sand and rock. Hala'ib is the root cause of Bir Tawil’s troubles.

Bir Tawil’s problems didn’t, however, arise until after Sudan achieved independence in 1956.

The new Sudanese government declared its national borders as those stipulated in the second proclamation, making the Hala’ib triangle a part of Sudan. 

Egypt, on the other hand refused to swallow’s Sudan’s new territory, asserting that this was meant to be a temporary administrative jurisdiction, and that sovereignty had been established in the 1899 treaty, which set the border at the 22nd parallel in effect making the Hala’ib triangle Egyptian.

So, what’s the fuss with Hala’ib which is just a patch filled with sand and rock?

You see, while Hala'ib is indeed a textbook example of another ‘barren land’ it has one edge over poor Bir Tawil. It borders the Red Sea effectively making it more valuable.

Now both Egypt and Sudan want Hala'ib, but the way the border was created between them, each country can have either Bir Tawil or Hala'ib, but not both. So, whoever claims Bir Tawil thus would have to relinquish their claim to the larger and more lucrative Hala’ib Triangle, which neither country wants to lose.

To date, on Egyptian maps, Bir Tawil is shown as belonging to Sudan while on Sudanese maps, it appears as part of Egypt. 

Apart from Egypt and Sudan, Bir Tawil has no shortage of admirers

In the recent past, several people have tried to claim Bir Tawil, like Dmitry Zhikharev and his friend Mikhail Ronkainen who hosted the Russian flag over Bir Tawil in 2014.

Jeremiah Heaton, an American dad also tried to claim Bir Tawil by planting a flag his family designed in the ‘hot bowl of sand and rock’.

Similarly, an Indian businessman, Suyash Dixit, reached Bir Tawil in 2017 and planted his own flag.

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