Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki on Friday attacked his Islamist allies in the ruling coalition, accusing them of seeking to monopolise power, in a letter read at the opening of his party's congress.
"What complicates the situation is the growing feeling that our Ennahda brothers are working to control the administrative and political operations of the state," Marzouki said in the letter, which was read out by one of his advisers.
"This behaviour reminds us of the bygone era" of ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali," he added, condemning "the appointment of supporters (of the Ennahda party to key posts) whether or not they are qualified."
Reacting to the president's charges, several top government officials belonging to the Islamist party walked out of the conference, including Human Rights Minister Samir Dilou and Interior Minister Ali Larayedh, according to an AFP reporter.
Marzouki belongs to the Congress for the Republic (CPR), a secular, centre-left party that partners Ennahda in the ruling three-party coalition, along with Ettakatol, also on the centre-left.
The moderate Islamist party dominates the alliance, after winning the largest share of votes in legislative elections last October, with the premiership going to Ennahda's Hamadi Jebali.
Many civil society and opposition activists have criticised the president, a veteran human rights activist and dissident under Ben Ali, for not resisting the Islamist party's increasingly authoritarian tendencies.
In particular, Ennahda has been denounced for appointing its supporters to prominent positions in the public media and for drafting a law that would jail for up to two years anyone convicted of attacking sacred values.
Critics are also furious with the Islamists for seeking to amend an article in the constitution that refers to the "complementarity," rather than equality of women to men, which brought thousands of Tunisians onto the streets in protest last week.
Marzouki's comments come two months after a political crisis that almost brought the coalition government down, when Jebali ignored the president's opposition to the extradition of former Libyan premier Baghdadi al-Mahmudi.
There are also deep divisions within the coalition over the nature of the new constitution, with Ennahda pushing for a pure parliamentary system and the other parties wanting important powers to remain in the hands of the president.
The CPR is due to a adopt a programme by the end of its congress on Sunday, elaborating its political strategy ahead of planned elections next year and clarifying its direction, after differences among its members emerged in recent months.
Several of its representatives in parliament have left the party to join new political group Wafa.