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عربي

Bir Tawil: Investigating the future of a Terra Nullius

The status of Bir Tawil, a territory which has neither been claimed by Sudan nor Egypt, is dependent on the determination of the Hala’ib Triangle’s status.
3.07.2013  |  Port sudan
Bir Tawil and the Hala’ib Triangle in the eastern border regions of Sudan and Egypt.
Bir Tawil and the Hala’ib Triangle in the eastern border regions of Sudan and Egypt.

Only few Sudanese and Egyptians have heard of Bir Tawil. However, presumably many have heard of the Hala’ib Triangle, although the two areas are politically interconnected.

The two areas located next to one another, in the eastern border regions of Sudan and Egypt, are inseparable if the sovereignty of any is to be determined.

At that time Hala\'ib Triangle and Bir Tawil were subject to the sovereignty of Sudan.” Mohammed Othman TayoutLooking at the territorial agreements upon which each country identifies its borders, Sudan recognises the 1902 convention, which puts the Hala\'ib Triangle within its territory and excludes Bir Tawil. Egypt follows the 1899 border agreement, claiming sovereignty over Hala\'ib Triangle, excluding Bir Tawil as well.

The bottom line is competition over the  Hala\'ib Triangle and a Terra Nullius status for Bir Tawil. This is probably due to the triangle’s strategic location on the Red Sea, which makes it an opening towards the East, unlike the landlocked Bir Tawil.

Does this however mean that neither Egypt nor Sudan exert a certain political power in Bir Tawil? And what is the fate of this region that has not received its share of political and media attention?

I visited Bir Tawil in 1972 during an electoral campaign under former President Gaafar Nimeiry and at that time Hala\'ib Triangle and Bir Tawil were subject to the sovereignty of Sudan,” said Mohammed Othman Tayout, Chief of the Bishareen tribe in Sudan.

Now, the Egyptian forces are present in Hala\'ib Triangle and Bir Tawil and even the currency used there is the Egyptian Pound, while the Sudan has no presence at all. Even the Bishareen tribe coming from Sudan cannot enter there without permission from the Egyptian authorities,” he added.

Egypt has disavowed its recognition of the borders defined in the 1902 Agreement and adhered to the 1899 Agreement.”
Dr. Othman Ahmad Fagrai
The dispute over the Hala\'ib Triangle puts Bir Tawil in a somewhat complex legal situation, which in case of an escalation, could only be resolved through an international arbitration.

Egypt had already ceded the political borders defined in the 1899 Agreement and ratified the 1902 Agreement which places Hala\'ib Triangle under Sudanese administration, which is in Sudan\'s advantage in case the issue is referred to international arbitration,” said Dr. Othman Ahmad Fagrai, an international law expert.

He adds, that Egypt has disavowed its recognition of the borders defined in the 1902 Agreement and adhered to the 1899 Agreement makes Bir Tawil, according to international law, within Sudan’s national territory. Therefore referring the issue to international arbitration will guarantee that Sudan gets both areas.”

Another solution could be to hold a referendum over the Hala\'ib Triangle status. If both Sudan and Egypt recognise the outcome of the referendum, it might as well lead both to recognise the borders defined in either the 1899 or the 1902 Agreement, which will ultimately determine the legal status of Bir Tawil.  

Also read:
The Scramble for Bir Tawil
by Mac Zech, World News Editor Sentinel
In both cases, it seems that resolving the issue of the Hala\'ib Triangle will determine the future of Bir Tawil and that the country which will win the first may lose the latter.

To use either of these means to resolve the status of the two territories remains dependent on the interests of both Sudan and Egypt. Sudan might be unwilling to upset its long time ally Egypt, and this could be the reason why the country is not standing up for its territorial rights, especially that nowadays, Sudan counts its allies on the fingers of one hand.