CAIRO: Neither Egyptian nor Sudanese authorities have responded to a Virginia man’s June 16 claim of the land of Bir Tawil. 46-year-old Jeremiah Heaton traveled all the way from a small town in Virginia to Africa to lay his claim on the 800-square-mile piece of land located between Egypt and Sudan.
“I doubt that his claim has any legal status or political significance,” Sheila Carapico, professor of political science and international studies at the University of Richmond and visiting professor at the American University in Cairo, told The Cairo Post. “I don’t think the Egyptian public has anything to worry about.”
Heaton planted a flag designed by his three children to claim the land on his daughter Emily’s seventh birthday. Heaton has named Emily the “ruling princess” and reportedly laid his claim so as to not break a promise to Emily that she could be a “real” princess.
Heaton told the press he would legally pursue what he calls the Kingdom of North Sudan, believing neither Egypt nor Sudan would deny his claim. Heaton had already spoken of plans for the territory, such as boosting agriculture to benefit neighboring areas, Princess Emily expressed her concern about the ‘starvation of other children.’
“That’s definitely a concern in that part of the world. We discussed what we could do as a nation to help,” Heaton said, according to The Telegraph, adding: “If we can turn North Sudan into an agricultural hub for the area […] a lot of technology has gone into agriculture and water.”
Bir Tawil, which has no defined borders, generally falls under Egyptian control authorities in Aswan and Borer Guard forces when it comes to crossing the land for tourism and safari purposes, tour operator Yaser Waris explained.
Heaton had carefully established his plan, and specifically chose that piece of land knowing it was unclaimed by neither state since a historical dispute for the more strategic Halayeb Triangle, The Washington Post reported.
“The British army, which dominated Egypt and Sudan in the early 20th century, has set two borders: one, in 1899, that would put Bir Tawil in Sudan; another, in 1902, that puts Bir Tawil in Egypt,” Fathy Khourshid professor of Nubian history at Minya University Faculty of Arts explained in statements to The Cairo Post.
“The problem is that the country that gets Bir Tawil doesn’t get the more valuable and adjacent Halaib Triangle, So Egypt claims the 1899 borders are the correct ones, while Sudan claims the 1902 borders are the correct ones which simply means neither country claims Bir Tawil as its own, Khourshid said.
However, Carapico would not compare Heaton to colonial-era, because “even then, they did so with support of military or naval forces, and usually with the backing of an imperial power,” she stated.
According to The Global Post, Bir Tawil is among the only two remaining unclaimed territories in the world, with Marie Byrd Land, a 620,000 square-mile land in Antarctica. According to Carapico, if the land is not owned by anyone, Heaton could seek to practice “squatter rights” if he moves there with his family to guarantee ownership.
Reporting by Sallie Pisch, Amira El-Fekki and Rany Mostafa.