(CNN) -- Mohamed Morsi was sworn in Saturday as Egypt's first democratically-elected president, taking the helm of a deeply divided nation that is economically strapped and lacks a working government.
The historic ceremony took place amid tight security before the Supreme Constitutional Court and was overseen by Egypt's military rulers who have been in control of the country since Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year during a popular revolution.
"Today, the Egyptian people established a new life for complete freedom, for a true democracy," Morsi said after taking the oath.
"I swear by almighty God that I will uphold the republican system and respect the constitution of the law and look after the interests of the people," he said.
Shortly after the swearing-in, Morsi went to Cairo University, where he gave his first speech as president.
He praised the country's military, but indicated that their control of Egypt's legislative powers would return to civilian hands.
"The (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) adhered to its pledge to not go beyond of the will of the people. And the elected institutions will come back to take their role, and the great Egyptian army will to go their job to protect the boundaries and security of the country," he said, delineating the army's role.
SCAF, which assumed legislative powers after they dissolved parliament after a court ruling, continues to wield that power even after Morsi's swearing-in. It will retain those powers until a new parliament is sworn in near the end of the year.
"We have fulfilled our obligations and the pledge that we took before God and the people. We now have a president who was elected in free elections. Egypt is witnessing a new democratic process," the head of the SCAF, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, said at a military ceremony for Morsi Saturday.
It is time to put the past behind us and learn from its lessons, he said, before presenting the president with a shield of the army.
"I accept the transfer of power from Field Marshal Tantawi," Morsi said.
Egyptians, all Arabs, and the world were witnessing "how authority is transferred from the armed forces to the will of the people to the elected civilian authority," Morsi said.
The president also addressed the crisis in Syria. He signaled that Egypt would play a role in resolving that conflict.
"The bloodbath in Syria must be stopped," he said. "We'll spare no effort in the immediate future to work toward this goal."
Morsi's theme in his recent appearances has been one of respect for democracy and the people.
"Today we start a new chapter in the history of Egypt. We turn an old page of an ugly era," he said.
He added, ""I will not betray my country. With the will of God I will fulfill your ambitions."
Egypt's electoral commission declared Morsi the president-elect Sunday after a runoff with Ahmed Shafik, a former air force general who served as Mubarak's last prime minister.
Morsi had been the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, but he resigned from the party shortly after he was elected president.
Just days before the election, a high court ruled that Egypt's parliament was unconstitutional.
Some of Morsi's supporters are pushing for a confrontation with the generals, who dissolved the parliament after the ruling.
Additionally, the military rulers named a defense council to oversee national security and foreign policies while also declaring it would maintain control of all military affairs.
World leaders, meanwhile, will likely be watching what Morsi does next.
During the speech Friday, he said he would work to free the blind Egyptian cleric serving a life sentence in the United States for a conspiracy conviction related to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
He said he wanted to work to free political prisoners, which he said included Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman.
"Their rights will be on my shoulders and I won't spare effort" to free them, he said.
Morsi is a study in contrasts: a strict Islamist educated in Southern California who vowed during his campaign to stand for women's rights yet argued for banning them from the presidency.
During the historic campaign, Morsi said he would support democracy, women's rights and peaceful relations with Israel if he won.
But he has also called Israeli leaders "vampires" and "killers."
Morsi focused his campaign on appealing to the broadest possible audience after a slogan associated with his campaign, "Islam is the solution," sparked concerns that he could introduce a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy.
During the campaign, he said he had no such plans. His party seeks "an executive branch that represents the people's true will and implements their public interests," Morsi told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
Asked whether he would maintain Egypt's 1979 accord with Israel, Morsi said, "Yes, of course I will. I will respect it provided the other side keep it up and respect it."