To this day, Egypt and Sudan have yet to resolve their disagreements over Bir Tawil and Halaib. In fact, this awkward border issue had remained dormant until 1992, when a Canadian oil company asked the Sudanese government for permission to explore for oil in the Halaib region. Upon receiving news of the prospects of oil there, the Egyptian government quickly imposed administrative control of the land. In 2010, an attempt was made by the Sudanese government to gain access to Halaib region, but was denied by Egypt.
Hence, the crux of the border problem now lies in Halaib over which both countries claim sovereignty. Given the strategic advantage of Halaib which is bigger and borders the Red Sea, both countries are choosing to interpret the historical agreements in their own preferred way to claim the region. Egypt prefers to stick to the 1899 Agreement, while Sudan chooses to adopt the 1902 amendments.
However, since the claim of Bir Tawil (the smaller of the two areas) would undermine its claim to the larger one, neither country is willing to claim control over the former. Moreover, neither country is interested in Bir Tawil as there is simply nothing there, except sand and dry mountains. It is said that a well was once built inside Bir Tawil, but no one is sure what happened to it after that.
This state of affairs has since relegated Bir Tawil to the status of terra nullius, which is defined in international law as "land that has never been subject to the soverignty of any state, or over which any prior sovereign has expressly or implicitly relinquished sovereignty". In layman's terms, it is "no man's land".
Nonetheless, for now, Egypt has asserted itself as the de facto administrator of both areas, until the issue is resolved.
What is there at Bir Tawil?
The land is completely uninhabited, besides some nomadic shepherds from the Ababda tribe who might venture to the abovementioned water well. There are no permanent settlements, buildings, roads or fences there.
With its arid subtropical climate, the land is not suitable for agriculture. In addition, most of the natural desert vegetation is still intact. The landscape is mostly covered with sparse vegetation.
Found in the northern part of Bir Tawil is Jabal Tawil, a mountain with an average elevation of 459 metre above sea level. To the east is Jabal Hajar az Zarqa, a height of 662 meters. To the south is Wadi Tawil (or valley).
The nearest town with a population of more than 50,000 is about half a day's journey by local transportation.
As mentioned above, the Ababda tribe live as desert nomads who herd camels and goats in the desert of southern Egypt. They may also harvest wild plants with medicinal value for sale in market towns. By the 1920s, most Ababda have settled down in towns in the Nile Valley, while only venturing into the desert when necessary. Many Ababda men also worked in mines in Egypt.
For Bir Tawil, August is its warmest month with an average temperature of 38.4 °C. January is its coldest with an average temperature of 10.6 °C at night. The area has temperate cold and warm seasons, like winters and summers. Its rainfall and other precipitation have no distinct peak month.
Unlike Halaib which has access to the Red Sea, petroleum reserves, more inhabitable land and a sizeable population, the landlocked Bir Tawil can be described as an unwanted orphan. Indeed, until both Egypt and Sudan resolve their territorial dispute, it looks like Bir Tawil's status as the world's most unwanted land will remain for a long time.
"Claiming" Bir Tawil
Notwithstanding Egypt and Sudan's reluctance to claim this piece of barren land, the advent of the Internet has allowed many to learn of its unwanted status, who have since come forth to lay claim to it. Some have declared themselves king of Bir Tawil and written to the governments of Egypt and Sudan, though whether the latter responded or not remains unclear.
There are also suggested designs for a national flag for the "Kingdom of Bir Tawil", one of which is a white flag with a blue disk in the centre. The white colour represents peace and neutrality of the kingdom, while the blue disk represents the water well found inside it. Another has striped colours and a picture of a well.
It also has several websites and Facebook pages (one even with its own constitution, foreign policy proclamations and call for new citizens).