TUNIS // Tunisia’s political rivals agreed on Saturday to a timetable for the Islamist-led ruling coalition to stand down and be replaced by a government of independents.
The Islamist Ennahda party and opposition groups in the country that gave birth to the Arab Spring signed a road map aimed at creating a new government within three weeks.
The deal was brokered to end a simmering two-month crisis sparked by the assassination in July of the opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi.
The document, drawn up by four mediators, calls for the nomination of an independent prime minister by the end of next week, who would then have two weeks to form a cabinet.
The ceremony got under way after a delay of several hours that underscored the mutual distrust between the rival camps.
“I want to thank you for joining this dialogue because you are opening the door of hope for Tunisians,” said Houcine Abassi, whose UGTT trade union confederation was the lead mediator behind the road map.
Delegates said the launch of the hard-won dialogue with a symbolic ceremony was jeopardised by a last-minute dispute.
The confederation said Ennahda had initially refused to sign the text that underlines the timetable of the national dialogue.
It was not immediately clear how it was resolved, but Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi on Twitter blamed the almost four-hour delay on “last-minute blackmail” by the opposition.
Ennahda eventually signed the agreement, but its secular ally, the Congress for the Republic party of President Moncef Marzouki, refused to do so.
By signing the road map, 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.
The road map also foresees, within the next four weeks and after a national dialogue across the political spectrum, the adoption of a constitution and a timetable for elections.
The ceremony was attended by Mr Marzouki, the prime minister Ali Larayedh and the parliament speaker Mustafa Ben Jaafar, as well as party leaders.
“We will not disappoint the Tunisian people nor the dialogue itself,” Mr Larayedh said.
Last week, Ennahda and the secular opposition agreed on a blueprint for talks, drafted by the confederation, the employers’ organisation Utica, the bar association and the Tunisian League for Human Rights.
Political activity had ground to a halt since Brahmi’s murder, holding up the formation of stable state institutions since the 2011 uprising.
Ennahda has been accused of mismanaging the economy and failing to rein in Islamic extremists, who are blamed for murdering Brahmi and Chokri Belaid, another prominent opposition politician killed six months earlier.
Analysts had voiced cautious optimism ahead of the dialogue.
“The road map is a platform but its application word for word is less probable because of the lack of trust between the two sides,” said Slaheddine Jourchi.
Another analyst, Sami Brahem, echoed him, saying: “The problem is a moral one, lack of trust between the ruling coalition and the opposition.”
* Agence France-Presse