Under what conditions do insurgents succeed in governing areas outside their territorial control? Rebel governance scholars insist that coercive control of territory is a necessary precondition for the development of insurgent institutions. However, this claim is belied both by the empirical record and classic guerrilla warfare doctrines. We propose that rebel groups can establish insurgent institutions for political organization and service provision in contested areas under two conditions. First, since insurgents cannot force civilians to participate in rebel institutions in contested areas, rebel governance absent territorial control requires a high popular demand for insurgent governance. Second, because the state is better placed to detect and uproot rebel institutions in contested areas, rebel governance absent territorial control is only feasible when there are favorable opportunities for protecting insurgent institutions. Case study evidence from Ireland, South Africa, and Algeria support our propositions, and further demonstrates that rebel groups themselves often shape these conditions in their favor or disfavor. Our findings shed new light on the inter-linkages between territorial control and rebel governance, as well as on the processes whereby insurgents mold the political landscape to their (dis)advantage.