Washington - Jeremiah Heaton was playing with his daughter in their Abingdon, Virginia, home last winter when she asked whether she could be a real princess.

Heaton, a father of three who works in the mining industry, didn’t want to make any false promises to Emily, then six, who was “big on being a princess”. But he still said yes.

“As a parent, you sometimes go down paths you never thought you would,” Heaton said.

Within months, Heaton was journeying through the southern stretches of Egypt and into an unclaimed 1 287km² patch of arid desert. There, on June 16 he planted a blue flag with four stars and a crown on a rocky hill. The area, a sandy expanse sitting along the Sudanese border, morphed from what locals call Bir Tawil into what Heaton and his family call the “Kingdom of North Sudan”.

There, Heaton is the self-proclaimed king and Emily is his princess.

“I wanted to show my kids I will literally go to the ends of the earth to make their wishes and dreams come true,” Heaton said.

Sheila Carapico, professor of political science and international studies at the University of Richmond, told the Bristol Herald Courier Heaton would need legal recognition from neighbouring countries, the UN or other groups to have political control of the land.

Heaton plans to reach out to the AU for assistance in formally establishing the Kingdom of North Sudan and said he was confident they would welcome him. Representatives from the Egyptian and Sudanese embassies in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

Heaton says his claim over Bir Tawil is legitimate. He argues that planting the flag is exactly how several other countries, including what became the US, were historically claimed.


After he promised his daughter she could be a princess, Heaton began searching online for unclaimed land the world over. When focusing his search on the Latin term “terra nullius”, meaning “land belonging to no one”, Heaton stumbled across information on Bir Tawil. He said a border dispute between Sudan and Egypt left the land, about halfway between where the Nile River crosses into Sudan and Egypt’s coast along the Red Sea, as unclaimed territory.

This research led Heaton to seek permission from Egyptian authorities to travel to the remote, unpopulated plot of sand, explaining his cause. At first, even he was sceptical of his own plan.

“I was fearful of going into a toxic environment,” Heaton said.

Once he got permission, Heaton headed to Egypt and spent a few days there before arriving at Bir Tawil. His perspective om the region quickly changed as he travelled.

“I cannot stress how kind and generous the Egyptian people are,” Heaton said.

The next step in Heaton’s plan is to establish positive relationships with Sudan and Egypt by way of converting his “kingdom” into an agricultural production centre as his children, especially Emily, wanted. – The Washington Post