TUNIS  - Tunisia’s ruling Islamists said Wednesday they have agreed to give up key ministries to independents, a concession that could speed up the formation of a new government and end a political crisis.

“We confirm the ‘neutralistion’ of the four sovereign ministries,” Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi said on Radio Kalima, referring to the interior, justice, foreign and defence portfolios. It appeared to be a significant backdown from the powerful politician who had previously declared that Ennahda would “never give up power” which it secured through “the legitimacy of the ballot”.

Ennahda has controlled the interior, justice and foreign ministries since Tunisia held its first free elections in October 2011, nine months after strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in an uprising that sparked the Arab Spring. The defence portfolio is already in the hands of an independent, Abdelkarim Zbidi, who has held the post since the revolution.

Ghannouchi said a new government could now be formed “at the end of the week”. “We see that it is in the interests of the Tunisian government, in the transitional period and for the period to come, to bring together Islamists and secularists... even though we are the majority,” he said.

Interior Minister Ali Larayedh was charged last week with forming a new government following the resignation of prime minister Hamadi Jebali, after his plan for a non-partisan government failed. Jebali announced the plan on February 6, the day that a lone gunman shot dead leftist opposition leader Chokri Belaid outside his home in the capital Tunis. The assassination of the fierce Ennahda critic triggered violence that deepened a crisis already building for months due to rising tensions between Islamists and liberals.

Salafists in socially divided Tunisia also tried to prevent the filming of current Internet craze the “Harlem Shake” at a school on Wednesday, but were driven off after coming to blows with students.

At another school, south of the capital, the principal banned a performance there, and angry students reacted by hurling stones at police, who responded with tear gas. When a dozen or so youths, some of them women in veils, showed up at the Bourguiba Language Institute in the El Khadra neighbourhood of Tunis, a Salafist bastion, students shouted “Get out, get out!”

One of the Salafists, shouted “Our brothers in Palestine are being killed by Israelis, and you are dancing.” A number of social media sites have denounced the “Harlem Shake” as indecent.