This was a part of a larger work and was the story of a man's rise to some semblance of power in his own circle of "riffraff" as the title of the larger work indicates--The Harafish.
Overall, I was a little lost while reading this and I feel certain it was the translation from Egyptian. Even so, I enjoyed seeing how the underbelly of this Egyptian society worked and how it shaped the characters Mahfouz chose to write about, characters I felt he both knew well and admired in his own way.
Perhaps this is an example of where I should start at the beginning of this longer work and read from there instead of starting where I did. It might have made this story more appealing throughout if I had.