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TWL #2: Bir Tawil- The Land Without a Country


Believe it or not, there’s still land on
earth that’s not part of any country. Bir Tawil is that land. This 800 square mile (2100
square kilometer) area between Egypt and Sudan is claimed by neither Egypt nor Sudan. To
understand why this is, we have to go back, to 1899. At the turn of the 20th century,
Britain had a large and rapidly expanding empire across the world. A large part of this
empire was in Africa, where colonialism had taken root. Britain held a complex level of
authority in North-East Africa, and through that got to decide that the border between
Sudan and Egypt was going to be the 22nd parallel. The problem with this border was that it made
no consideration to the placement of actual people, it just put a big line in the sand
and arbitrarily split up tribes and people. In 1902, Britain decided to draw a new administrative
boundary that put into consideration that use of the land by various tribes. That way,
tribes wouldn’t be living in one territory and grazing their cattle in another. Fast
forward 114 years, and both territories are now fully fledged countries—no longer under
British rule. The problem is, Sudan now recognizes the 1902 administrative boundary as the real
border, while Egypt recognized the 1899 border on the 22nd parallel as the real border. What
this means is that Bir Tawil is South of Egypt’s border—so Egypt thinks it’s part of Sudan—while
also north of Sudan’s border—so Sudan thinks it’s part of Egypt. This doesn’t
really create many problems though, because there’s a whopping zero people living in
Bir Tawil. There’s not even any roads or buildings—it’s just 800 square miles of
nothing…ruled by nobody. This same border issue does create issues in other places though.
The Hala’ib triangle is 10 times bigger that Bir Tawil, and, instead of being claimed
by no country, it’s claimed by two countries. That’s because its North of what Egypt thinks
is the border while simultaneously south of what Sudan thinks is the border. The two countries
actually care about this piece of land because there are things. There’s a road! And sea
access! And 1,000 residents! Currently, the land is administered by Egypt, but let’s
get back to Bir Tawil. In his 2014 book, Alastair Bonnett said that Bir Tawil is “…the only
place on the planet that is both habitable and unclaimed.” The biggest unclaimed piece
of land is the Marie Byrd land, but, that’s not considered to be habitable land, since,
you know, it’s in Antartica. There’s one other area of technically unclaimed land on
the Danube River between Croatia and Serbia due to a similar border dispute, however,
practically, the land, while on a map not part of either country, is well-divided administratively.
So, Bir Tawil is the only place on earth where people might actually be able to create a
new country. So what’s stopping people? Well, not much. Scores of people have claimed
the land as their own country, but if my video on How to Create a Country taught you anything,
it’s that it doesn’t matter if you think you’re a country, it matters if other people
think you’re a country. No recognized country currently recognizes any claim to Bir Tawil
likely because nobody has set up a government or permanent population in Bir Tawil. While
the land is habitable, there is no infrastructure to bring in supplies to support a settlement.
With it being a desert and all, agriculture doesn’t do so well, so any prospective country
founder would need to build a road or airport to bring in food. In addition, there really
aren’t any natural resources, so it’s unlikely that a country established in the
area would be self-sustaining economically. However, if someone was able to set up a democratic
government in the area with a permanent population, its entirely possible that they would gain
recognition, and there would be a 197th country in the world—or 194th… or 193rd.. or,
it really just depends on who you ask.

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