A friend happily recommended Albert Cossery's short 1964 novel The Jokers, a very funny satire on a dictatorial Arab governor. Cairo-born Cossery died in Paris a few years ago aged 94, having lived most of his life on the fourth floor of the same St Germain hotel - La Louisiane. He produced less than one book for each decade of his life.
The cover (pictured) for the NYRB's translation (from French), by Iranian photographer Abbas, is presumably an image of Syrian ruler Hafez al-Assad and underlines the book's continued relevance. An obvious parallel is Milan Kundera's The Joke (1967), which also takes for its starting point authoritarian states' fear of mockery.
Cossery's philosophy is closer to that of the pleasure-seeking Tomas in Kundera's most famous work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), though The Jokers' mordant denouement shows there's nothing more serious than humour. I'll definitely be looking up more work by Cossery, thanks for the tip, Andrew!
Related: Tintin in Arabia