Bizarre Borders - Bir Tawil

Samanyu Ram

September 23, 2022

Colonization is a gateway to bizarre borders, and this edition of Bizzare Borders is no different from the rest. Amid the Sahara Desert lies a small piece of land named Bir Tawil. Bordering Northern Sudan and Southern Egypt, this isolated territory has a curious case. Why haven’t you ever heard of this country? That’s because it is not an official country but is a plot of land claimed by no one.

Bir Tawil is 795 square miles of nothingness and nobody. You may be thinking, how does this large, central portion of land go unclaimed by its neighboring countries? The answer to this question ultimately revolves around the border dispute between Egypt and Sudan. In 1899, the United Kingdom and Egypt agreed that all land south of the 22nd parallel line of latitude would be considered Sudan’s property. However, in 1904, the United Kingdom also established an administrative boundary to differentiate the tribes in the area. This new border conflicted with the previous one set in 1899. Egypt claimed that the partition set in 1899 was the official one because it gave them more land. In response, Sudan asserted that the new borderline was the official one for the same reason. A display of the UK’s clumsiness left two massive problems, Bir Tawil and an almost 8000 square mile plot of land claimed by both countries named the Hala’ib Triangle, but we won’t get into that right now.

Although Bir Tawil doesn’t have any set population or settlements, there are still tribes that pass through the region. The Ababda Tribe, boasting a population of over 250,000, and the Bishari Tribe, with a substantially less population of 42,000, often pass through Bir Tawil on their voyages and expeditions. Since Bir Tawil is an empty slice of the barren Sahara Desert, with no direct access to water, there is no real motivation for Sudan or Egypt to make a claim. 

There are no formal laws or government in Bir Tawil, so theoretically, anyone can show up and claim it, being precisely what one Virginia man did. Jeremiah Heaton, a businessman who actually ran for Congress in 2012, decided to take a trip to Africa in 2014. After making it to Bir Tawil, Heaton planted a blue flag with a crown in the center. His seven-year-old daughter dreamed of being a princess, so with that in mind, Heaton created the Kingdom of North Sudan, where his daughter could be a princess once and for all. The country would need to be recognized by the United Nations to become official, but that is highly unlikely seeing as the UN would not mind crushing a little girl’s dreams.