The Scramble for Bir Tawil

Ask an average American on the street to identify the Sudan-Egyptian border on a map and you’ll probably be met with blank stares, raised eyebrows, casual shrugs, and other responses indicative of willful (and even prideful) ignorance. While a bit disheartening, this reaction is not necessarily unexpected. After all, a region generally must be engulfed in war or see the creation of a new country in order to merit the attention of the busy American public. But what if, by some convoluted combination of international law and diplomacy, there was as strip of land—a 765 square mile, upside down trapezoid to be exact—in between these two nations, which was claimed by neither? And what if this landlocked and uninhabited scrap of desert, confirmed terra nullius (land belonging to no one), could be claimed by anyone under international law? If you’ve always dreamt of ruling your own sovereign nation but never knew where to start, you can join thousands of other hopefuls in what will undoubtedly become the greatest colonial movement of the 21st century: the Scramble for Bir Tawil. temp

To understand why Bir Tawil has not yet been claimed by either the Sudanese or the Egyptians, it is necessary to examine the long-standing border conflict between these two former British colonies. In 1899, in a move that would legally put Bir Tawil within the Sudan, and the Hala’ib Triangle—a much more valuable coastal territory—within Egypt, colonial officials placed the border between these two colonial territories along the 22nd parallel. However, three years later, the British decided that the Hala’ib Triangle should be put under the administrative control of Khartoum rather than Cairo. This hasty redrawing of borders initially drew little attention but, after Egypt and Sudan’s independence, it sparked a border conflict that continues into today, with both countries claiming the resource-rich Hala’ib Triangle rather than the much smaller and desolate Bir Tawil.

While neither of these nations has made any attempt to seize Bir Tawil, several individuals around the world have insisted ownership of the region in attempts to start their own microstates. Several of these flamboyant founders have even made their own websites and drafted their own constitutions. Currently, there is even much squabbling among the micronations over the rightful de jure governing body of Bir Tawil. As the flames of micronationalism, fanned by border disputes, burn hotter and hotter, the global community can only hope that sovereigns like Emperor Nico Kaikkonnen I of the Principality of Bir Tawil, King Daniel I of Daniel-Land, and His Serene Majesty Mathayus I of Bir Tawilia will be able to reach a permanent agreement without having to resort to war.

Although these “rulers” are, for the most part, nothing more than bored, megalomaniacal teenagers with way too much time on their hands, the explosion of political discussion generated by Bir Tawil is anything but juvenile. By choosing public online forums as their communications medium, many fundamental topics pertaining to basic human rights, political representation, and a government’s role in society have been raised up and heatedly debated. Unlike today’s mainstream political dialogue—a polarized and homogenous battle between seemingly black and white issues—, online discussion, an especially anonymous forums, facilitate a vibrant and ideologically diverse environment.

Even on a short excursion to these websites, one can find Anarcho-Syndicalists debating Marxists debating Jeffersonians debating State Capitalists debating Paleoconservatives debating Neoconservatives debating Rand’s Objectivists debating Stalinists ad infinitum. When debating over microstates, all of the shackles placed on the political environment are, in effect, broken. These founders don’t need to worry about a public reaction and are therefore allowed to delve much deeper into more esoteric but not inherently worthless political philosophies. Indeed, the debate has led to some quite impressive products, including hundred page constitutions and manifestos.

Of course, these proposed nations will almost undoubtedly never be founded and these small political movements will never see their policies actualized by a legitimate government. Unless one of these microstaters is able to convince Bill Gates to subsidize their new nation, Bir Tawil will remain an unclaimed, barren land. But the farfetchedness associated with the creation of new microstates should not overshadow the undeniable positives to such preoccupations. The political discussion sparked by this phenomenon cannot be overlooked. Microstates are, on the whole, a doomed venture but the idea of one actually being formed allows the politically inclined to think outside the Overton Window, imagine their ideal government, and dwell on the underlying principles which influence their ideology and the ideology of society as a whole.

So next time your neighbor decides to form his own nation on his back porch, don’t be a hater; ask for a copy of his new nation’s constitution (that is, if it’s not an absolute monarchy) and maybe even critique his flag (not too many stripes, eagles are tacky, orange is never ok, etc.). Who knows, you might end up a founder to something much greater than you ever could have expected.

— Mac Zech, World News Editor

Posted by on April 16, 2013. Filed under World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry