Naguib Mahfouz has long been one of my favorite writers. Definitely up in the top three with a Russian and an American :)
Born in Cairo in 1911, he was the first Arab to win a Nobel Prize in Lit for his tremendous work. My favorite was The Cairo Trilogy, which included the fat novels Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street."
He died a few months ago at the age of 94, making him the longest-lived Lit Laureate and only Arab Lit Laureate to that point.
I truly recommend his trilogy for a rolicking and inside look into the homes and customs of middle-class Egypt in the early 20th century. Fantastic reading for a long plane ride.