Egypt is tottering between rule by Islamists and the military.
So are conservative intellectuals, in fact, on the brink of a surge, rather than tottering at the edge of extinction?
He is vividly, fearfully aware of how much worse things might get than the rotten, tottering system he upholds.
c.1200, "swing to and fro," perhaps from a Scandinavian source (cf. dialectal Norwegian totra "to quiver, shake"). Meaning "stand or walk with shaky, unsteady steps" is from c.1600. Related: Tottered; tottering.