| From Phoenician settlements begun in about 1000 BC, including Carthage, the region known today as Tunisia has figured in Mediterranean history ever since. The Romans, followed by the Vandals and the Byzantines, all desired Tunisia. Islam spread here in the seventh century and led to the country's emergence as an important Islamic center. In 1574, the Ottomans made Tunisia part of their empire, ruling from Constantinople. Tunisia became French protectorate in 1881 and by the 20th century, nationalist movements began to surface. Their activities subsided during World War II, when Allied and Axis powers fought here, but resumed after the war. By the 1950s, it was clear that French control was coming to an end and independence was declared in 1956. Habib Bourguiba's New Constitution party took control of the government in 1957; he himself was named president for life in 1959. He was overthrown, however, in 1987. The stability of Tunisia has been challenged by radical Islamic groups in Tunisia and Algeria.