Yes, I am indeed reading the David Hawkes translation. How far are you?
You are a Romantic. I am a Romantic. Indeed, "Sugar Street" makes you feel Romantic, even if the past was far less than ideal. Families do tend to rise and fall, just as civilizations. Why? That would be an answer for the ages. A brilliant individual, audacious and socially successful, makes a fortune and a name for himself and his family. The next generation is able, but less focused. The next is degenerate.
Ahmad is a horrible person, as we've said. He's THE macho man, gracious outside and a despot inside his home. But he is likable (at least to like-minded people), hardworking and successful. Yasin is his caricature, badly drawn; Fahmy was intelligent, but not strong-willed; Kamal is a failure, or perhaps just a guy in the wrong civilization. The fact is, they can never achieve their father's successes. The novel itself becomes disenchanted, nostalgic, sad. Such is life...
By the way, this is exactly the same overall subject of "The Story of the Stone". I assume you are reading the David Hawkes translation...
I found this novel to be more problematic. It is not nearly as focused as PoD. It feels as though everything is tending to corruption, decline, and collapse. (No wonder that Buddenbrooks was said to be one of his models.)
I feel that I must tread on dangerous ground here. It is hard not to feel that much has been lost of the culture under the influence of modernization. I found it impossible not to look back on PW as a much more appealing time. Yet I'm aware that I'm at risk of falling into romanticized Orientalism. Of course I wish that Egyptians be able to waste hours playing games on their iPhones and Facebooking like the rest of the world. And of course the culture in PW is hypocritical, misogynistic, and oppressive in many ways. But I cannot escape the feeling of decline. Perhaps I'm just a Romantic.