The foremost novelist writing in Arabic traces his roots to the civilization of ancient Egyptians, seven thousands years ago.
Mahfouz has also wrought a change in Arabic prose, synthesizing traditional literary style and modern speech to create a new literary language understood by Arabs everywhere.
Readers of his works will find many similarities with the 19th c realist novel in Europe. Mahfouz has been called the "Balzac of Egypt." His fictional families and frustrated middle-class clerks have documented the successive stages of Egyptian social and political life from the time the country cast off foreign rule and became a "postcolonial" society.
Mahfouz's stories have a huge audience in the West because they deal with basic human issues in a realistic social context.
Mahfouz believes in the social function of art and the concomittant responsibility of the writer.
As a representative of the Third World, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1988, he says, "The developed world and the Third World are but one family. Each human being bears responsibility towards it by the degree of what he has obtained of knowledge, wisdom, and civilization...in the name of the third world: Be not spectators to our miseries."