Friday, August 6, 2010

The Hala'ib Triangle and why National Geographic has it Wrong

The Hala'ib triangle is a division of land in northeast Africa. The area is a disputed region, a result of two different borders being set between Sudan and Egypt, both of whom claim the Hala'ib triangle.

In 1899, Egypt and the United Kingdom agreed on the 22nd parallel as the border between the two countries. Three years later in 1902 the British created a new dividing line, granting administration of the area to Sudan because of its proximity and access from Khartoum. The administrative boundary created the Hala'ib triangle north of the 22nd parallel and a small area, the Bir Tawil south of the parallel. The 1902 agreement ceded administrative control of Bir Tawil to Egypt (which was really the British anyway) Both can be seen on the map above.

While both countries still claim the Hala'ib triangle, neither claims Bir Tawil, the "lonely little triangle" to the south of the 22nd parallel. So what would cause two countries to claim one 20,000 square kilometer piece of land but both reject claims to a 2,000 square kilometer parcel adjacent to it?

If you guessed natural resources, you're probably right! But that is only part of the story.

While Sudan held troops in the area for years it was Sudan granting exlploration rights to the Canadian oil company, Canadian International Petroleum Corporation, that finally made Egypt take note.

In 2000, Sudan pulled troops from the area, ceding de facto control to Egypt. However, Omar al-Bashir remains firm in Sudan's claim to the land, stating earlier this year "Halayeb is Sudanese and will stay Sudanese".

I found a FANTASTIC article on the issue in the Sudan Tribune.

In my daily routine of mapgazing I discovered that National Geographic, who I see as THE authority on political maps, now uses the 22nd parallel as the border. This shows all the land to the north as Egypt and all to the South as Sudan. This is a significant change from the 2000 world map which shows the 1899 Anglo-Egyptian political division - complete with Egpyt control over Bir Tawil. What's not clear is what happened that made them switch how the area is displayed.

I thought that it must have been Sudan removing their armed presence in the area and the desire to show de facto control. But that doesn't explain why they show Bir Tawil as Sudan. If it was the removal of troops that prompted the change, that should only be reflected in the Halai'ib traingle, not Bir Tawil. Until I get a better reason or explanation, I think National Geographic has this one wrong.

I emailed National Geographic for an answer on what prompted the Map Policy Committee change from the 1899 political boundary to the 1902 administrative boundary. I'll probably only receive a generic email but I am going to stick with this, look for individual contact information and see if I can get official word from a spokesperson. Perhaps I should have inquired through their press inquiry e-mail. Whatever I find out I'll let you know.

How do you think the Hala'ib triangle and Bir Tawil should be displayed?


  1. Did you get a reply? I think that your probably right re the sudanese troops. bir tawil is technically the territory of the nation that ceeds control of halaib , so I would say they have it, in reality, correct but the right politically geographic approach is surely to mark a dashed line around halaib and leave bit tawil white marked with terra nullius!

  2. James, Check out National Geographic's reply here:

    National Geographic Responds

    I like your suggestion of marking bir tawil as terra nullius.

  3. official site of bir tawil

  4. the fact that Egypt rejects international arbitration is an assertion to the weakness of their case and that (in their view) international law is not sufficient to cement their claim over the land. So they cannot peaceably govern it. their tactic is short-sighted.
    furthermore, the fact that Egypt maintains administrative control over both Bir Tawil and Halaib also points to a political contradiction.
    This is nothing more than a land grab propagated by Elbashir's assassination attempt of Mubarak in the 90s and a currently weak Sudanese military.
    but the Sudanese people have a long memory and historically have not given easily to unjust action. the matter will be concluded once the khartoum tyrants shirking their duties are removed.

  5. You are wrong! Administrative boundary is a temporary arrangement for convenience. The political boundaries is the permanent boundaries. I addition, Bir El-Tawil is not controlled by Egypt!

  6. Egypt does not has any claims on Bir Taweel area and does not control it, so try to correct what you wrote, and regarding your Sudanese nationalism : battles are fought on the streets with people surrounding you and not only on internet pages