AbstractAlthough a firm theoretical foundation for understanding the relationship between political economy and urban form has been created in the western based literature, such approaches are of limited applicability for understanding cities in the developing world. By analyzing the impact of four political economic regimes (Islamic, Imperialist, Arab Socialist and Transitory) on the urbanscape of Cairo, this article illustrates how political economic regimes imprint their ideology on the urban morphology. The representation of this ideology is manifested in both city form and function. Evidence from Cairo finds that political economic shifts, particularly those which alter the nature of the city's relationship with the global economic system, had far-reaching impacts on the city's urbanscape. Finally, this approach is suggested as a model for application in other developing world contexts. Copyright Joint Editors and Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999.