Tunisian leaders on October 5, 2013
Tunisian leaders on October 5, 2013 Reuters

Tunisia's political rivals agreed on Saturday on a timetable for the unpopular Islamist-led ruling coalition to quit and be replaced by a government of independents, aiming to end a festering political crisis, reports AFP.

The Islamist Ennahda party and opposition groups in the country that gave birth to the Arab Spring signed a roadmap aimed at creating a new government within three weeks, said the report.

Saturday's deal, signed in the presence of politicians and media, was brokered to end a simmering two-month crisis sparked by the assassination in July of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi.

The document, drawn up by four mediators, foresees the nomination of an independent prime minister by the end of next week, who would then have two weeks to form a cabinet.

It says that after the first day of national dialogue, "the government will resign with a delay not exceeding three weeks."

One of the leaders of Ennahda, Abdelhamid Jlassi, told AFP the national dialogue proper is not expected to start on Monday, however.

"First there will be preparatory meetings, and the date of the government's resignation will not be determined until the start of the real national dialogue," he told the news agency.

"Ennahda's signature today is a major concession made in the interests of the country," he added.

Saturday's ceremony got under way after a delay of several hours that underscored the mutual distrust between the rival camps.

By signing the roadmap, the Ennahda-led coalition, which has been rocked by the murder of two political opponents, economic woes and prolonged political disputes, has agreed to step down two years after winning a general election.

Its victory at the polls on October 23, 2011, was the first free vote in Tunisian history, and followed the overthrow of long-ruling strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the first revolt of the Arab Spring.

Earlier this week, Ennahda and the secular opposition agreed on a blueprint for talks.

Tunisian opposition activists had expressed hope of replicating Egypt’s second ouster – the overthrow of democratically elected Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi by the army, and the subsequent re-criminalization of the Muslim Brotherhood.  

Ennahda has been more moderate than the Muslim Brotherhood in agreeing to a power-sharing agreement, and not mentioning Sharia (Islamic law) in the constitution, but opposition groups have accused it of turning a blind eye to the activities of more radical Islamist groups.