Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party has voted to separate its political and religious work, part of the group's effort to cast itself as a modern political party in line with the North African country's secular heritage.

The move at the party's conference in the resort town of Hammamet on Monday comes as the group, headed by charismatic 75-year-old Rachid Ghannouchi, positions itself before local elections due next year.

Tunisia has been bedeviled by splits between secular-minded liberals and Islamists since the latter came to power in the wake of the first of the so-called "Arab Spring" revolts in 2011.

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, of the opposition Nida Tunis member, said the move was a positive step, saying that "Islam presents no danger to democracy."